Manon Lescaut

by the Abbe Prevost

Chapter IIX

This Passion hath its floods in the very times of weakness,
which are great prosperity, and great adversity; both which
times kindle Love, and make it more fervent.--BACON.

"For several weeks I thus continued to think only of enjoying
the full luxury of my situation; and being restrained, by a sense
of honour, as well as a lurking apprehension of the police, from
renewing my intimacy with my former companions at the hotel of
Transylvania, I began to play in certain coteries less notorious,
where my good luck rendered it unnecessary for me to have
recourse to my former accomplishments.  I passed a part of the
afternoon in town, and returned always to supper at Chaillot,
accompanied very often by M. de T----, whose intimacy and
friendship for us daily increased.

"Manon soon found resources against ennui.  She became
acquainted with some young ladies, whom the spring brought into
the neighbourhood.  They occupied their leisure hours in walking,
and the customary amusements of persons of their sex and age. 
Their little gains at cards (always within innocent limits) were
laid out in defraying the expense of a coach, in which they took
an airing occasionally in the Bois de Boulogne; and each night
when I returned, I was sure of finding Manon more beautiful--more
contented--more affectionate than ever.

"There arose, however, certain clouds, which seemed to threaten
the continuance of this blissful tranquillity, but they were soon
dispelled; and Manon's sprightliness made the affair so
excessively comical in its termination, that it is even now
pleasing to recur to it, as a proof of the tenderness as well as
the cheerfulness of her disposition.

"The only servant we had came to me one day, with great
embarrassment, and taking me aside, told me that he had a secret
of the utmost importance to communicate to me.  I urged him to
explain himself without reserve.  After some hesitation, he gave
me to understand that a foreigner of high rank had apparently
fallen in love with Manon.  I felt my blood boil at the
announcement.  `Has she shown any penchant for him?'  I enquired,
interrupting my informant with more impatience than was
requisite, if I desired to have a full explanation.

"He was alarmed at my excitement; and replied in an undecided
tone, that he had not made sufficiently minute observation to
satisfy me; but that, having noticed for several days together
the regular arrival of the stranger at the Bois de Boulogne,
where, quitting his carriage, he walked by himself in the
cross-avenues, appearing to seek opportunities of meeting Manon,
it had occurred to him to form an acquaintance with the servants,
in order to discover the name of their master; that they spoke of
him as an Italian prince, and that they also suspected he was
upon some adventure of gallantry.  He had not been able to learn
anything further, he added, trembling as he spoke, because the
prince, then on the point of leaving the wood, had approached
him, and with the most condescending familiarity asked his name;
upon which, as if he at once knew that he was in our service, he
congratulated him on having, for his mistress, the most
enchanting person upon earth.

"I listened to this recital with the greatest impatience.  He
ended with the most awkward excuses, which I attributed to the
premature and imprudent display of my own agitation.  In vain I
implored him to continue his history.  He protested that he knew
nothing more, and that what he had previously told me, having
only happened the preceding day, he had not had a second
opportunity of seeing the prince's servants.  I encouraged him,
not only with praises, but with a substantial recompense; and
without betraying the slightest distrust of Manon, I requested
him, in the mildest manner, to keep strict watch upon all the
foreigner's movements.

"In truth, the effect of his fright was to leave me in a state
of the cruellest suspense.  It was possible that she had ordered
him to suppress part of the truth.  However, after a little
reflection, I recovered sufficiently from my fears to see the
manner in which I had exposed my weaknesses.  I could hardly
consider it a crime in Manon to be loved.  Judging from
appearances, it was probable that she was not even aware of her
conquest.  `And what kind of life shall I in future lead,'
thought I, `if I am capable of letting jealousy so easily take
possession of my mind?'

"I returned on the following day to Paris, with no other
intention than to hasten the improvement of my fortune, by
playing deeper than ever, in order to be in a condition to quit
Chaillot on the first real occasion for uneasiness.  That night I
learned nothing at all calculated to trouble my repose.  The
foreigner had, as usual, made his appearance in the Bois de
Boulogne; and venturing, from what had passed the preceding day,
to accost my servant more familiarly, he spoke to him openly of
his passion, but in such terms as not to lead to the slightest
suspicion of Manon's being aware of it.  He put a thousand
questions to him, and at last tried to bribe him with large
promises; and taking a letter from his pocket, he in vain
entreated him, with the promise of some louis d'ors, to convey it
to her.

"Two days passed without anything more occurring: the third was
of a different character.  I learned on my arrival, later than
usual, from Paris, that Manon, while in the wood, had left her
companions for a moment, and that the foreigner, who had followed
her at a short distance, approached, upon her making him a sign,
and that she handed him a letter, which he took with a transport
of joy.  He had only time to express his delight by kissing the
billet-doux, for she was out of sight in an instant.  But she
appeared in unusually high spirits the remainder of the day; and
even after her return to our lodgings, her gaiety continued.  I
trembled at every word.

"`Are you perfectly sure,' said I, in an agony of fear, to my
servant, `that your eyes have not deceived you?'  He called
Heaven to witness the truth of what he had told me. 

"I know not to what excess the torments of my mind would have
driven me, if Manon, who heard me come in, had not met me with an
air of impatience, and complained of my delay.  Before I had time
to reply, she loaded me with caresses; and when she found we were
alone, she reproached me warmly with the habit I was contracting
of staying out so late.  My silence gave her an opportunity of
continuing; and she then said that for the last three weeks I had
never spent one entire day in her society; that she could not
endure such prolonged absence; that she should at least expect me
to give up a day to her from time to time, and that she
particularly wished me to be with, her on the following day from
morning till night.

"`You may be very certain I shall do that,' said I, in rather a
sharp tone.  She did not appear to notice my annoyance; she
seemed to me to have more than her usual cheerfulness; and she
described, with infinite pleasantry, the manner in which she had
spent the day.

"`Incomprehensible girl!" said I to myself; `what am I to
expect after such a prelude?' The adventures of my first
separation occurred to me; nevertheless, I fancied I saw in her
cheerfulness, and the affectionate reception she gave me, an air
of truth that perfectly accorded with her professions.

"It was an easy matter at supper to account for the low spirits
which I could not conceal, by attributing them to a loss I had
that day sustained at the gaming-table.  I considered it most
fortunate that the idea of my remaining all the next day at
Chaillot was suggested by herself: I should thus have ample time
for deliberation.  My presence would prevent any fears for at
least the next day; and if nothing should occur to compel me to
disclose the discovery I had already made, I was determined on
the following day to move my establishment into town, and fix
myself in a quarter where I should have nothing to apprehend from
the interference of princes.  This arrangement made me pass the
night more tranquilly, but it by no means put an end to the alarm
I felt at the prospect of a new infidelity.

"When I awoke in the morning, Manon said to me, that although we
were to pass the day at home, she did not at all wish that I
should be less carefully dressed than on other occasions; and
that she had a particular fancy for doing the duties of my
toilette that morning with her own hands.  It was an amusement
she often indulged in: but she appeared to take more pains on
this occasion than I had ever observed before.  To gratify her, I
was obliged to sit at her toilette table, and try all the
different modes she imagined for dressing my hair.  In the course
of the operation, she made me often turn my head round towards
her, and putting both hands upon my shoulders, she would examine
me with most anxious curiosity: then, showing her approbation by
one or two kisses, she would make me resume my position before
the glass, in order to continue her occupation.

"This amatory trifling engaged us till dinner-time.  The
pleasure she seemed to derive from it, and her more than usual
gaiety, appeared to me so thoroughly natural, that I found it
impossible any longer to suspect the treason I had previously
conjured up; and I was several times on the point of candidly
opening my mind to her, and throwing off a load that had begun to
weigh heavily upon my heart: but I flattered myself with the hope
that the explanation would every moment come from herself, and I
anticipated the delicious triumph this would afford me.

"We returned to her boudoir.  She began again to put my hair in
order, and I humoured all her whims; when they came to say that
the Prince of ---- was below, and wished to see her.  The name
alone almost threw me into a rage.

"`What then,' exclaimed I, as I indignantly pushed her from me,
`who?--what prince?'

"She made no answer to my enquiries.

"`Show him upstairs,' said she coolly to the servant; and then
turning towards me, `Dearest love! you whom I so fervently
adore,' she added in the most bewitching tone, `I only ask of you
one moment's patience; one moment, one single moment!  I will
love you ten thousand times more than ever: your compliance now
shall never, during my life, be forgotten.'

"Indignation and astonishment deprived me of the power of
utterance.  She renewed her entreaties, and I could not find
adequate expressions to convey my feelings of anger and contempt. 
But hearing the door of the ante-chamber open, she grasped with
one hand my locks, which were floating over my shoulders, while
she took her toilette mirror in the other, and with all her
strength led me in this manner to the door of the boudoir, which
she opened with her knee, and presented to the foreigner, who had
been prevented by the noise he heard inside from advancing beyond
the middle of the ante-chamber, a spectacle that must have indeed
amazed him.  I saw a man extremely well dressed, but with a
particularly ill-favoured countenance.

"Notwithstanding his embarrassment, he made her a profound bow. 
Manon gave him no time for speech-making; she held up the mirror
before him:  `Look, sir,' said she to him, `observe yourself
minutely, and I only ask you then to do me justice.  You wish me
to love you: this is the man whom I love, and whom I have sworn
to love during my whole life: make the comparison yourself.  If
you think you can rival him in my affections, tell me at least
upon what pretensions; for I solemnly declare to you, that, in
the estimation of your most obedient humble servant, all the
princes in Italy are not worth a single one of the hairs I now
hold in my hand.'

"During this whimsical harangue, which she had apparently
prepared beforehand, I tried in vain to disengage myself, and
feeling compassion for a person of such consideration, I was
desirous, by my politeness at least, of making some reparation
for this little outrage.  But recovering his self-possession with
the ease of a man accustomed to the world, he put an end to my
feelings of pity by his reply, which was, in my opinion, rude

"`Young lady! young lady!' said he to her, with a sardonic
smile, 'my eyes in truth are opened, and I perceive that you are
much less of a novice than I had pictured to myself.'

"He immediately retired without looking at her again, muttering
to himself that the French women were quite as bad as those of
Italy.  I felt little desire, on this occasion, to change his
opinion of the fair sex.

"Manon let go my hand, threw herself into an armchair, and made
the room resound with her shouts of laughter.  I candidly confess
that I was touched most sensibly by this unexpected proof of her
affection, and by the sacrifice of her own interest which I had
just witnessed, and which she could only have been induced to
make by her excessive love for me.  Still, however, I could not
help thinking she had gone rather too far.  I reproached her with
what I called her indiscretion.  She told me that my rival, after
having besieged her for several days in the Bois de Boulogne, and
having made her comprehend his object by signs and grimaces, had
actually made an open declaration of love; informing her at the
same time of his name and all his titles, by means of a letter,
which he had sent through the hands of the coachman who drove her
and her companions; that he had promised her, on the other side
of the Alps, a brilliant fortune and eternal adoration; that she
returned to Chaillot, with the intention of relating to me the
whole adventure, but that, fancying it might be made a source of
amusement to us, she could not help gratifying her whim; that she
accordingly invited the Italian prince, by a flattering note, to
pay her a visit; and that it had afforded her equal delight to
make me an accomplice, without giving me the least suspicion of
her plan.  I said not a word of the information I had received
through another channel; and the intoxication of triumphant love
made me applaud all she had done.


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