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MANON LESCAUT (10)

2006-08-28 21:00

    X

    What lost a world, and bade a hero fly? The timid tear in Cleopatra's eye. Yet be the soft triumvir's fault forgiven, By this, how many lose——not earth——but heaven! Consign their souls to man's eternal foe, And seal their own, to spare some wanton's, woe!

    BYRON.

    I soon returned to Manon; and to prevent the servants from having any suspicion, I told her in their hearing, that she need not expect M. G——M—— to supper; that he was most reluctantly occupied with business which detained him, and that he had commissioned me to come and make his excuses, and to fill his place at the supper table; which, in the company of so beautiful a lady, I could not but consider a very high honour. She seconded me with her usual adroitness. We sat down to supper. I put on the most serious air I could assume, while the servants were in the room, and at length having got rid of them, we passed, beyond all comparison, the most agreeable evening of my life. I gave Marcel orders to find a hackney-coach, and engage it to be at the gate on the following morning a little before six o'clock. I pretended to take leave of Manon about midnight, but easily gaining admission again, through Marcel, I proceeded to occupy G—— M——'s bed, as I had filled his place at the supper table.

    "In the meantime our evil genius was at work for our destruction. We were like children enjoying the success of our silly scheme, while the sword hung suspended over our heads. The thread which upheld it was just about to break; but the better to understand all the circumstances of our ruin, it is necessary to know the immediate cause.

    "G—— M—— was followed by a servant, when he was stopped by my friend the guardsman. Alarmed by what he saw, this fellow retraced his steps, and the first thing he did was to go and inform old G—— M—— of what had just happened.

    "Such a piece of news, of course, excited him greatly. This was his only son; and considering the old gentleman's advanced age, he was extremely active and ardent. He first enquired of the servant what his son had been doing that afternoon; whether he had had any quarrel on his own account, or interfered in any other; whether he had been in any suspicious house. The lackey, who fancied his master in imminent danger, and thought he ought not to have any reserve in such an emergency, disclosed at once all that he knew of his connection with Manon, and of the expense he had gone to on her account; the manner in which he had passed the afternoon with her until about nine o'clock, the circumstance of his leaving her, and the outrage he encountered on his return. This was enough to convince him that his son's affair was a love quarrel. Although it was then at least half-past ten at night, he determined at once to call on the lieutenant of police. He begged of him to issue immediate orders to all the detachments that were out on duty, and he himself, taking some men with him, hastened to the street where his son had been stopped: he visited every place where he thought he might have a chance of finding him; and not being able to discover the slightest trace of him, he went off to the house of his mistress, to which he thought he probably might by this time have returned.

    "I was stepping into bed when he arrived. The door of the chamber being closed, I did not hear the knock at the gate, but he rushed into the house, accompanied by two archers of the guard, and after fruitless enquiries of the servants about his son, he resolved to try whether he could get any information from their mistress. He came up to the apartment, still accompanied by the guard. We were just on the point of lying down when he burst open the door, and electrified us by his appearance. `Heavens!' said I to Manon, `it is old G—— M——。' I attempted to get possession of my sword; but it was fortunately entangled in my belt. The archers, who saw my object, advanced to lay hold of me. Stript to my shirt, I could, of course, offer no resistance, and they speedily deprived me of all means of defence.

    "G—— M——, although a good deal embarrassed by the whole scene, soon recognised me; and Manon still more easily. `Is this a dream?' said he, in the most serious tone——`do I not see before me the Chevalier des Grieux and ?' I was so overcome with shame and disappointment, that I could make him no reply. He appeared for some minutes revolving different thoughts in his mind; and as if they had suddenly excited his anger, he exclaimed, addressing himself to me: `Wretch! I am confident that you have murdered my son!'

    "I felt indignant at so insulting a charge. `You hoary and lecherous villain!' I exclaimed, `if I had been inclined to kill any of your worthless family, it is with you I should most assuredly have commenced.'

    "`Hold him fast,' cried he to the archers; `he must give me some tidings of my son; I shall have him hanged tomorrow, if he does not presently let me know how he has disposed of him.'

    "`You will have me hanged,' said I, `will you? Infamous scoundre! it is for such as you that the gibbet is erected. Know that the blood which flows in my veins is noble, and purer in every sense than yours. Yes,' I added, `I do know what has happened to your son; and if you irritate me further, I will have him strangled before morning; and I promise you the consolation of meeting in your own person the same fate, after he is disposed of.'

    "I was imprudent in acknowledging that I knew where his son was, but excess of anger made me commit this indiscretion. He immediately called in five or six other archers, who were waiting at the gate, and ordered them to take all the servants into custody. `Ah! ah! Chevalier,' said he, in a tone of sardonic raillery,——`so you do know where my son is, and you will have him strangled, you say? We will try to set that matter to rights.'

    "I now saw the folly I had committed.

    "He approached Manon, who was sitting upon the bed, bathed in a flood of tears. He said something, with the most cruel irony, of the despotic power she wielded over old and young, father and son—— her edifying dominion over her empire. This superannuated monster of incontinence actually attempted to take liberties with her.

    "`Take care,' exclaimed I, `how you lay a finger upon her!—— neither divine nor human law will be able, should your folly arouse it, to shield you from my vengeance!'

    "He quitted the room, desiring the archers to make us dress as quickly as possible. "I know not what were his intentions at that moment with regard to us; we might perhaps have regained our liberty if we had told him where his son was. As I dressed, I considered whether this would not be the wisest course. But if, on quitting the room, such had been the disposition of his mind, it was very different when he returned. He had first gone to question Manon's servants, who were in the custody of the guard. From those who had been expressly hired for her service by his son, he could learn nothing; but when he found that Marcel had been previously our servant, he determined to extract some information from him, by means of intimidation, threats, or bribes.

    "This lad was faithful, but weak and unsophisticated. The remembrance of what he had done at the penitentiary for Manon's release, joined to the terror with which G—— M—— now inspired him, so subdued his mind, that he thought they were about leading him to the gallows, or the rack. He promised that, if they would spare his life, he would disclose everything he knew. This speech made G—— M—— imagine that there was something more serious in the affair than he had before supposed; he not only gave Marcel a promise of his life, but a handsome reward in hand for his intended confession.

    "The booby then told him the leading features of our plot, of which we had made no secret before him, as he was himself to have borne a part in it. True, he knew nothing of the alterations we had made at Paris in our original design; but he had been informed, before quitting Chaillot, of our projected adventure, and of the part he was to perform. He therefore told him that the object was to make a dupe of his son; and that Manon was to receive, if she had not already received, ten thousand francs, which, according to our project, would be effectually lost to G—— M——, his heirs and assigns for ever.

    "Having acquired this information, the old gentleman hastened back in a rage to the apartment. Without uttering a word, he passed into the boudoir, where he easily put his hand upon the money and the jewels. He then accosted us, bursting with rage; and holding up what he was pleased to call our plunder, he loaded us with the most indignant reproaches. He placed close to Manon's eye the pearl necklace and bracelets. `Do you recognise them?' said he, in a tone of mockery; 'it is not, perhaps, the first time you may have seen them. The identical pearls, by my faith! They were selected by your own exquisite taste! The poor innocents!' added he; `they really are most amiable creatures, both one and the other; but they are perhaps a little too much inclined to roguery.'

    "I could hardly contain my indignation at this speech. I would have given for one moment's liberty——Heavens! what would I not have given? At length, I suppressed my feelings sufficiently to say in a tone of moderation, which was but the refinement of rage: `Put an end, sir, to this insolent mockery! What is your object? What do you purpose doing with us?'

    "`M. Chevalier,' he answered, `my object is to see you quietly lodged in the prison of Le Chatelet. Tomorrow will bring daylight with it, and we shall then be able to take a clearer view of matters; and I hope you will at last do me the favour to let me know where my son is.'

    "It did not require much consideration to feel convinced that our incarceration in Le Chatelet would be a serious calamity. I foresaw all the dangers that would ensue. In spite of my pride, I plainly saw the necessity of bending before my fate, and conciliating my most implacable enemy by submission. I begged of him, in the quietest manner, to listen to me. `I wish to do myself but common justice, sir,' said I to him; `I admit that my youth has led me into egregious follies; and that you have had fair reason to complain: but if you have ever felt the resistless power of love, if you can enter into the sufferings of an unhappy young man, from whom all that he most loved was ravished, you may think me perhaps not so culpable in seeking the gratification of an innocent revenge; or at least, you may consider me sufficiently punished, by the exposure and degradation I have just now endured. Neither pains nor imprisonment will be requisite to make me tell you where your son now is. He is in perfect safety. It was never my intention to injure him, nor to give you just cause for offence. I am ready to let you know the place where he is safely passing the night, if, in return, you will set us at liberty.'

    "The old tiger, far from being softened by my prayer, turned his back upon me and laughed. A few words, escaped him, which showed that he perfectly well knew our whole plan from the commencement. As for his son, the brute said that he would easily find him, since I had not assassinated him. `Conduct them to the Petit-Chatelet,' said he to the archers; `and take especial care that the chevalier does not escape you: he is a scamp that once before escaped from St. Lazare.'

    "He went out, and left me in a condition that you may picture to yourself. `O Heavens!' cried I to myself, `I receive with humble submission all your visitations; but that a wretched scoundrel should thus have the power to tyrannise over me! this it is that plunges me into the depths of despair!' The archers begged that we would not detain them any longer. They had a coach at the door. `Come, my dear angel,' said I to Manon, as we went down, `come, let us submit to our destiny in all its rigour: it may one day please Heaven to render us more happy.'

    "We went in the same coach. I supported her in my arms. I had not heard her utter a single word since G—— M——'s first appearance: but now, finding herself alone with me, she addressed me in the tenderest manner, and accused herself of being the cause of all my troubles. I assured her that I never could complain, while she continued to love me. `It is not I that have reason to complain,' I added; `imprisonment for a few months has no terrors for me, and I would infinitely prefer Le Chatelet to St. Lazare; but it is for you, my dearest soul, that my heart bleeds. What a lot for such an angel! How can you, gracious Heaven! subject to such rigour the most perfect work of your own hands? Why are we not both of us born with qualities conformable to our wretched condition? We are endowed with spirit, with taste, with feeling; while the vilest of God's creatures——brutes, alone worthy of our unhappy fate, are revelling in all the favours of fortune.'

    "These feelings filled me with grief; but it was bliss compared with my prospects for the future. My fear, on account of Manon, knew no bounds. She had already been an inmate of the Magdalen; and even if she had left it by fair means, I knew that a relapse of this nature would be attended with disastrous consequences. I wished to let her know my fears: I was apprehensive of exciting hers. I trembled for her, without daring to put her on her guard against the danger; and I embraced her tenderly, to satisfy her, at least, of my love, which was almost the only sentiment to which I dared to give expression. `Manon,' said I, `tell me sincerely, will you ever cease to love me?'

    "She answered, that it made her unhappy to think that I could doubt it.

    "`Very well,' replied I, `I do so no longer; and with this conviction, I may well defy all my enemies. Through the influence of my family, I can ensure my own liberation from the Chatelet; and my life will be of little use, and of short duration, if I do not succeed in rescuing you.'

    "We arrived at the prison, where they put us into separate cells. This blow was the less severe, because I was prepared for it. I recommended Manon to the attention of the porter, telling him that I was a person of some distinction, and promising him a considerable recompense. I embraced my dearest mistress before we parted; I implored her not to distress herself too much, and to fear nothing while I lived. I had money with me: I gave her some; and I paid the porter, out of what remained, the amount of a month's expenses for both of us in, advance. This had an excellent effect, for I found myself placed in an apartment comfortably furnished, and they assured me that Manon was in one equally good.

    "I immediately set about devising the means of procuring my liberty. There certainly had been nothing actually criminal in my conduct; and supposing even that our felonious intention was established by the evidence of Marcel, I knew that criminal intentions alone were not punishable. I resolved to write immediately to my father, and beg of him to come himself to Paris. I felt much less humiliation, as I have already said, in being in Le Chatelet than in St. Lazare. Besides, although I preserved, all proper respect for the paternal authority, age and experience had considerably lessened my timidity. I wrote, and they made no difficulty in the prison about forwarding my letter; but it was a trouble I should have spared myself, had I known that my father was about to arrive on the following day in Paris. He had received the letter I had written to him a week before; it gave him extreme delight; but, notwithstanding the flattering hopes I had held out of my conversion, he could not implicitly rely on my statements. He determined therefore to satisfy himself of my reformation by the evidence of his own senses, and to regulate his conduct towards me according to his conviction of my sincerity. He arrived the day after my imprisonment.

    "His first visit was to Tiberge, to whose care I begged that he would address his answer. He could not learn from him either my present abode or condition: Tiberge merely told him of my principal adventures since I had escaped from St. Lazare. Tiberge spoke warmly of the disposition to virtue which I had evinced at our last interview. He added, that he considered me as having quite got rid of Manon; but that he was nevertheless surprised at my not having given him any intelligence about myself for a week. My father was not to be duped. He fully comprehended that there was something in the silence of which Tiberge complained, which had escaped my poor friend's penetration; and he took such pains to find me out, that in two days after his arrival he learned that I was in Le Chatelet.

    "Before I received this visit, which I little expected so soon, I had the honour of one from the lieutenant-general of police, or, to call things by their right names, I was subjected to an official examination. He upbraided me certainly, but not in any harsh or annoying manner. He told me, in the kindest tone, that he bitterly lamented my bad conduct; that I had committed a gross indiscretion in making an enemy of such a man as

    M. G—— M——; that in truth it was easy to see that there was, in the affair, more of imprudence and folly than of malice; but that still it was the second time I had been brought as a culprit under his cognisance; and that he had hoped I should have become more sedate, after the experience of two or three months in St. Lazare. "Delighted at finding that I had a rational judge to deal with, I explained the affair to him in a manner at once so respectful and so moderate, that he seemed exceedingly satisfied with my answers to all the queries he put. He desired me not to abandon myself to grief, and assured me that he felt every disposition to serve me, as well on account of my birth as my inexperience. I ventured to bespeak his attentions in favour of Manon, and I dwelt upon her gentle and excellent disposition. He replied, with a smile, that he had not yet seen her, but that she had been represented to him as a most dangerous person. This expression so excited my sympathy, that I urged a thousand anxious arguments in favour of my poor mistress, and I could not restrain even from shedding tears.

    He desired them to conduct me back to my chamber. `Love! love!' cried this grave magistrate as I went out, `thou art never to be reconciled with discretion!'

    "I had been occupied with the most melancholy reflections, and was thinking of the conversation I had had with the lieutenant-general of police, when I heard my door open. It was my father. Although I ought to have been half prepared for seeing him, and had reasons to expect his arrival within a day or two, yet I was so thunderstruck, that I could willingly have sunk into the earth, if it had been open at my feet. I embraced him in the greatest possible state of confusion. He took a seat, without either one or other of us having uttered a word.

    "As I remained standing, with my head uncovered, and my eyes cast on the ground, `Be seated, sir,' said he in a solemn voice; `be seated. I have to thank the notoriety of your debaucheries for learning the place of your abode. It is the privilege of such fame as yours, that it cannot lie concealed. You are acquiring celebrity by an unerring path. Doubtless it will lead you to the Greve,[] and you will then have the unfading glory of being held up to the admiration of the world.'

    []Who has e'er been at Paris must needs know the Greve, The fatal retreat of th' unfortunate brave, Where honour and justice most oddly contribute, To ease heroes' pains by the halter and gibbet.——PRIOR.

    "I made no reply. He continued: `What an unhappy lot is that of a father, who having tenderly loved a child, and strained every nerve to bring him up a virtuous and respectable man, finds him turn out in the end a worthless profligate, who dishonours him. To an ordinary reverse of fortune one may be reconciled; time softens the affliction, and even the indulgence of sorrow itself is not unavailing; but what remedy is there for an evil that is perpetually augmenting, such as the profligacy of a vicious son, who has deserted every principle of honour, and is ever plunging from deep into deeper vice? You are silent,' added he: `look at this counterfeit modesty, this hypocritical air of gentleness!—— might he not pass for the most respectable member of his family?'

    "Although I could not but feel that I deserved, in some degree, these reproaches, yet he appeared to me to carry them beyond all reason. I thought I might be permitted to explain my feelings.

    "`I assure you, sir,' said I to him, `that the modesty which you ridicule is by no means affected; it is the natural feeling of a son who entertains sincere respect for his father, and above all, a father irritated as you justly are by his faults. Neither have I, sir, the slightest wish to pass for the most respectable member of my family. I know that I have merited your reproaches, but I conjure you to temper them with mercy, and not to look upon me as the most infamous of mankind. I do not deserve such harsh names. It is love, you know it, that has caused all my errors. Fatal passion! Have you yourself never felt its force? Is it possible that you, with the same blood in your veins that flows in mine, should have passed through life unscathed by the same excitements? Love has rendered me perhaps foolishly tender——too easily excited—— too impassioned——too faithful, and probably too indulgent to the desires and caprices, or, if you will, the faults of an adored mistress. These are my crimes; are they such as to reflect dishonour upon you? Come, my dear father,' said I tenderly, `show some pity for a son, who has never ceased to feel respect and affection for you——who has not renounced, as you say, all feelings of honour and of duty, and who is himself a thousand times more an object of pity than you imagine.' I could not help shedding a tear as I concluded this appeal.

    "A father's heart is a chef-d'oeuvre of creation. There nature rules in undisturbed dominion, and regulates at will its most secret springs. He was a man of high feeling and good taste, and was so sensibly affected by the turn I had given to my defence, that he could no longer hide from me the change I had wrought.

    "`Come to me, my poor chevalier,' said he; `come and embrace me. I do pity you!'

    "I embraced him: he pressed me to him in such a manner, that I guessed what was passing in his heart. "`But how are we,' said he, `to extricate you from this place? Explain to me the real situation of your affairs.'

    "As there really was not anything in my conduct so grossly improper as to reflect dishonour upon me; at least, in comparison with the conduct of other young men of a certain station in the world; and as a mistress is not considered a disgrace, any more than a little dexterity in drawing some advantage from play, I gave my father a candid detail of the life I had been leading. As I recounted each transgression, I took care to cite some illustrious example in my justification, in order to palliate my own faults.

    "`I lived,' said I, `with a mistress without the solemnity of marriage. The Duke of —— keeps two before the eyes of all Paris. M—— D—— has had one now for ten years, and loves her with a fidelity which he has never shown to his wife. Two-thirds of the men of fashion in Paris keep mistresses.

    "`I certainly have on one or two occasions cheated at play. Well, the Marquis of —— and the Count —— have no other source of revenue. The Prince of —— and the Duke of —— are at the head of a gang of the same industrious order.' As for the designs I had upon the pockets of the two G—— M——s, I might just as easily have proved that I had abundant models for that also; but I had too much pride to plead guilty to this charge, and rest on the justification of example; so that I begged of my father to ascribe my weakness on this occasion to the violence of the two passions which agitated me——Revenge and Love.

    "He asked me whether I could suggest any means of obtaining my liberty, and in such a way as to avoid publicity as much as possible. I told him of the kind feelings which the lieutenant- general of police had expressed towards me. `If you encounter any obstacles,' said I, `they will be offered only by the two G—— M——s; so that I think it would be advisable to call upon them.'

    He promised to do so.

    "I did not dare ask him to solicit Manon's liberation; this was not from want of courage, but from the apprehension of exasperating him by such a proposition, and perhaps driving him to form some design fatal to the future happiness of us both. It remains to this hour a problem whether this fear on my part was not the immediate cause of all my most terrible misfortunes, by preventing me from ascertaining my father's disposition, and endeavouring to inspire him with favourable feelings towards my poor mistress: I might have perhaps once more succeeded in exciting his commiseration; I might have put him on his guard against the impression which he was sure of receiving from a visit to old G—— M——。 But how can I tell what the consequences would have been! My unhappy fate would have most probably counteracted all my efforts; but it would have been a consolation to have had nothing else but that, and the cruelty of my enemies, to blame for my afflictions.

    "On quitting me, my father went to pay a visit to M. G—— M——。 He found him with his son, whom the guardsman had safely restored to liberty. I never learned the particulars of their conversation; but I could easily infer them from the disastrous results. They went together (the two old gentlemen) to the lieutenant-general of police, from whom they requested one favour each: the first was to have me at once liberated from Le Chatelet; the second to condemn Manon to perpetual imprisonment, or to transport her for life to America. They happened, at that very period, to be sending out a number of convicts to the Mississippi. The lieutenant-general promised to have her embarked on board the first vessel that sailed.

    "M. G—— M—— and my father came together to bring me the news of my liberation. M. G—— M—— said something civil with reference to what had passed; and having congratulated me upon my happiness in having such a father, he exhorted me to profit henceforward by his instruction and example. My father desired me to express my sorrow for the injustice I had even contemplated against his family, and my gratitude for his having assisted in procuring my liberation.

    "We all left the prison together, without the mention of Manon's name. I dared not in their presence speak of her to the turnkeys. Alas! all my entreaties in her favour would have been useless. The cruel sentence upon Manon had arrived at the same time as the warrant for my discharge. The unfortunate girl was conducted in an hour after to the Hospital, to be there classed with some other wretched women, who had been condemned to the same punishment.

    "My father having forced me to accompany him to the house where he was residing, it was near six o'clock before I had an opportunity of escaping his vigilance. In returning to Le Chatelet, my only wish was to convey some refreshments to Manon, and to recommend her to the attention of the porter; for I had no hope of being permitted to see her; nor had I, as yet, had time to reflect on the best means of rescuing her.

    "I asked for the porter. I had won his heart, as much by my liberality to him, as by the mildness of my manner; so that, having a disposition to serve me, he spoke of Manon's sentence as a calamity which he sincerely regretted, since it was calculated to mortify me. I was at first unable to comprehend his meaning. We conversed for some minutes without my understanding him. At length perceiving that an explanation was necessary, he gave me such a one, as on a former occasion I wanted courage to relate to you, and which, even now, makes my blood curdle in my veins to remember.

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