Manon Lescaut Chapter 2

I WAS seventeen and just at the end of my philosophy course at Amiens, where I had been sent by my parents, who belonged to one of the best families in P. My conduct at college had been so good and steady that the masters quoted me as an example to others. Not that I had made any particular efforts to deserve such praise, but I am quiet and gentle by disposition and studious by nature. Moreover a certain instinctive aversion from evil was credited to me as a positive virtue. All the best people in the town knew me and respected me for my birth, good looks and success at college. At my public oral examination4 I made such an excellent impression that the bishop, who was present, suggested that I should embark on an ecclesiastical career, in which, he said, I would certainly go further than in the Order of Malta, which was what my family had planned for me. I already wore the Cross of Malta, and with it I was allowed the style of Chevalier des Grieux. As the vacation was beginning, I was getting ready to go home to my father who had promised to send me on to the Academy. My only regret at leaving Amiens was that it also meant leaving behind a friend from whom I had always been inseparable. He was a few years my senior and we had been brought up together, but as his family was poor he had no choice but to enter the priesthood and stay on in Amiens to take the necessary course of study. He was one of the very best of men, as you will see later in my story when you hear about his admirable qualities and his steadfast and generous friendship surpassing the most famous examples in antiquity. If only I had followed his advice at that time I should always have been good and happy. Or if I had listened to his criticisms when my passions were dragging me down to the abyss, I might at least have saved something from the wreck of my fortune and good name. But the only reward he has had has been the bitterness of seeing his loving care unavailing and more often than not brutally repulsed and taken for an insult and a nuisance.

I had arranged the date for leaving Amiens – how I wish I had fixed it a day earlier! I should have gone home to my father decent and clean. The day before I intended to leave I was walking along with my friend, whose name was Tiberge, when we saw the Arras coach5 arrive, and out of idle curiosity we followed it to the inn where passengers are set down. A few women got out and went straight indoors. But there was one very young one who waited alone in the inn-yard while an oldish man, who appeared to be in charge of her, was busy getting the luggage out of the boot. My modesty and reserve had been the admiration of all who knew me, and I had never so much as given a thought to the difference between the sexes, or more than a passing glance to any woman; but she seemed so lovely to me that then and there I was carried away by an overmastering passion. I had always suffered from the drawback of being over-shy and easily embarrassed, but far from being held back by this now I found myself confidently walking forward to meet the woman of my choice, the queen of my heart.

She was even younger than I was, but she was not in the least taken aback by the compliments I addressed to her. I asked her what brought her to Amiens and whether she knew anybody there. She answered quite simply that she had been sent there by her parents to become a nun. I had not been in love for more than a minute, but already love had so sharpened my wits that in a flash I made up my mind that such a project must not be allowed to blast my hopes. The way I spoke to her soon made her realize the state of my feelings, for she was much more experienced than I was. I gathered that she was being sent to the convent against her will, and I see now that it was probably to check the pleasure-loving tendencies that had already shown themselves in her, and that were to bring so much suffering on herself and me. I used all the arguments that awakening love and scholastic eloquence could devise to oppose her parents’ inhuman plan. She made no pretence at haughtiness or severity, but remained silent for some time and then said that she knew quite well that she was going to be miserable, but that she supposed it must be God’s will, since He had not shown her any other way out. Perhaps it was the soft appeal of her eyes as she spoke and her air of wistful sadness, or, more likely, it was the power of destiny luring me on to my destruction: at all events I did not hesitate a moment, but assured her that if she would rely on my honour and the deep affection I already felt for her, I was ready to devote my life to rescuing her from her tyrannical family and making her happy. On thinking it over since, I have been amazed time and again at my daring and the ease with which words came to me, but I suppose love would never have been called divine if it could not work miracles of this kind.

I went on to invent a hundred irresistible arguments, and my beautiful stranger knew quite well that men of my age are not deceivers. She confided to me that if I could see any means of setting her free she would feel she owed me gratitude for something dearer than life itself. I said again and again that I was ready to undertake anything, but being too inexperienced to think on the spur of the moment of any plan for helping her, I went no further than this general declaration, which was not very useful either to her or to me. At this juncture her old watchdog came back and all my hopes would have faded into thin air had she not had enough presence of mind for us both. To my surprise, when her manservant came up, I heard her referring to me as her cousin, and without seeming in the least disconcerted she told me that as she had been so fortunate as to meet me in Amiens she would postpone going into the convent for one day so as to have the pleasure of dining with me. I saw through her stratagem and played up well, suggesting that she put up at an inn the proprietor of which, having for many years been my father’s coachman, had now set up on his own in Amiens. He would do anything for me. I escorted her there, the old chap muttering vaguely and Tiberge following on in silence with no idea what it was all about. He had not overheard our conversation as he had walked up and down the yard while I was holding forth about love to my fine lady, and now I got rid of him by inventing some errand for him to run. And so when we reached the inn I had the joy of being alone with my idol. In a very short time I realized that I was not nearly as callow as I thought. I had all sorts of pleasurable sensations the like of which I had never dreamed of before: a kind of ineffable warmth spread through my whole being and I experienced such overpowering emotion that for some time I could not utter a sound, but only let my passion declare itself through my eyes. Mademoiselle Manon Lescaut (she told me that was her name) seemed gratified by this proof of the power of her charms, and I thought she was as deeply affected as I was. She admitted that she would be overjoyed to owe her freedom to me, for she found me most charming. She then asked who I was, and when I told her, her affection visibly increased because, being of humbler birth, she felt flattered at having such a man as me for a lover. We discussed ways and means of belonging to each other, and after much thought agreed that the only way was to elope. The first thing was to dodge the watchful eye of her man, and, though he was only a hired servant, he was a person to be reckoned with. It was decided that I should hire a post-chaise during the night and bring it round to the inn very early before he woke up; then we would steal away, make straight for Paris and get married as soon as we arrived. I had all my savings, about fifty écus, and she had about twice as much. In our innocence we imagined that this sum would last for ever, and were confident that everything else would be equally satisfactory.

After the most delightful meal I had ever enjoyed, I went off to put the scheme into operation. Arrangements were all the easier because my things were ready packed for my return home next day. I had no trouble in getting my trunk moved and booking a chaise for five in the morning, the time when the city gates were opened; but the whole plan was nearly wrecked by an unexpected obstacle – Tiberge.

Although he was only three years older than I, Tiberge had a mature judgement in addition to his upright character, and, moreover, he loved me as a brother. The prettiness of Mademoiselle Manon, my eagerness to take her to her lodgings and, above all, the trouble I had taken to find a pretext for getting rid of him, gave him grounds for suspecting that I had fallen in love. He had not dared to return to the inn where he had left me, for fear of annoying me, but he had gone back to my lodgings, and he was still waiting there when I returned although it was ten o’clock at night. I was put out at finding him there, and he saw it, so he came straight to the point: ‘I am sure you are planning something you want to hide from me. I can tell by the look of you.’ I answered rather roughly that I was not obliged to account to him for all my plans. ‘Perhaps not,’ he went on, ‘but so far you have always treated me as a friend, and as a friend I have a right to a little confidence and frankness.’ He urged me to let him share my secret, and pleaded so long and so earnestly that, never having hidden anything from him before, I ended by taking him into my confidence about the whole affair. He heard me with such obvious disapproval that I trembled. I was particularly vexed at having so rashly divulged my intention to run away. He said that he was too intimate a friend of mine not to oppose the idea with all his might, and that he would begin by mustering all the reasons he could think of to dissuade me. But if I did not give up such an absurd notion he would go and warn somebody in a position to stop me. Thereupon he read me a lecture lasting over a quarter of an hour, finishing up by renewed threats to inform against me unless I gave him my word of honour to behave more reasonably. I was furious at having given the game away at such an awkward moment. But in those two or three hours love had taught me many things, and now it occurred to me that I had not mentioned that the project was to be carried out the very next day. So I decided to deceive him by prevarication. ‘Tiberge,’ I said, ‘so far I have assumed that you were my friend, and I wanted to test you by letting you into this secret. It is quite true that I am in love, I have not deceived you over that; but as to the elopement idea, that is not the sort of thing to be rushed through without careful thought. Come and call for me tomorrow at nine, and if it can be managed I will let you see her. You shall then judge for yourself whether she is worthy of the step I am contemplating.’ This speech called forth many friendly protestations on his part, and he left me alone.

I spent all night settling my affairs, and at dawn I found Mademoiselle Manon waiting for me at the inn. She was stationed at her window, which looked on to the street, and, as soon as she saw me, stole down and opened the door herself. We got away without a sound. I carried the bundle of clothes which was all she had by way of luggage. The chaise was ready to leave and in a moment we were speeding away from the town.6 I will tell you later what Tiberge did when he found that I had tricked him. My treatment of him in no way lessened his determination to do his best for me. You will see the lengths to which he went and how bitterly I was to regret my persistent ingratitude.

Manon and I made such good speed that we were at Saint-Denis before nightfall. I had galloped by the side of the chaise and we had had no chance of talking except during the stops for changing horses, but now that Paris and safety were so near, we allowed ourselves time to eat something, as we had had nothing since leaving Amiens. Passionately as I loved her, she found ways of showing me that her love for me was no less passionate, and we cared so little about other people that we gave ourselves up to our embraces without waiting to be alone. The postillions and the folk at the inn looked on with amazement, and I noticed that they were surprised to see such transports of love in two youngsters of our age. All our ideas about marriage were forgotten at Saint-Denis; we tricked the Church of its rights, and before we had given the matter a thought found ourselves man and wife. I am quite sure that with my loyal and affectionate nature I should have been happy for life with Manon if only she had been faithful to me. The better I got to know her, the more charms of mind, heart, character and above all beauty I discovered in her, and her manifold and ever-fresh attractions bound me to her by ties so strong yet so delightful that I should have been content never to break them. What a terrible change of fortune was to be mine! Those very things which have brought me to despair might have made me rapturously happy, and I have become the most wretched man alive through that very constancy of mine which might have brought me the ineffable joys of true love.

We took furnished rooms in Paris, in the Rue V.7 As ill-luck would have it, we were quite near the house of M. de B., the notorious tax-farmer. Three weeks went by, weeks of such delirious passion that I scarcely gave a thought to my family and the sorrow my disappearance must have given my father. But as my love was not as yet sullied by debauchery, and as Manon behaved with much circumspection, we lived in a peaceful atmosphere that gradually recalled me to a sense of duty. In this frame of mind I decided to seek a reconciliation with my father. Manon was so enchanting that it seemed to me she could not fail to please him, if only I could find a way of telling him about her many qualities: in short, I imagined that I could get his permission to marry her, having found that I could not do so without his consent. I spoke about it to Manon, and gave her to understand that, apart altogether from motives of filial duty, sheer necessity might soon come into the picture because our funds were running low and I was beginning to revise my opinion that they were inexhaustible.

Manon heard this news with marked coolness. But as the objections she raised were based on her affection for me and the fear that when my father had found out our hiding-place she would lose me, if he did not come round to our point of view, I had not the slightest suspicion of the cruel blow being prepared for me at that very moment. She countered the argument of financial necessity by saying that we still had enough left for several weeks, and that after that she would write to some relatives in the country from whom she was sure she could manage to wheedle some money. And her refusal was softened by such tender caresses that I could not entertain the least doubt about her love, but even applauded all her arguments and plans. As I lived for her alone, how could I do otherwise?

I had left the management of our exchequer and the running of our daily life entirely to her. Soon after this conversation, I noticed that we were living in a much better style and that she had some new and quite expensive clothes. As I knew that we could not have much more than twelve or fifteen pistoles left, I let her see how surprised I was at this obvious improvement in our position. She laughed, told me not to worry and said: ‘Didn’t I promise you I would find the wherewithal?’ I loved her too singleheartedly to be easily disturbed by suspicions.

One afternoon I went out, having warned her that I would be away longer than usual. When I came back I was surprised to be kept waiting two or three minutes at the door. We had but one servant-girl of about our own age, and when at length she opened the door I asked her why she had been so long. She mumbled some tale about never having heard a knock. As I had only knocked once I said: ‘But if you didn’t hear me, why have you opened the door now?’ She was so taken aback at this that she lost her head altogether and began to cry. It was not her fault, she explained; Madame had ordered her not to open the door until M. de B. had gone down by the other staircase that connected directly with our private room. I was so staggered that I could not find the courage to enter the flat, but murmured something about important business and ran downstairs again, ordering the girl to tell her mistress that I would soon be back but not to say that she had mentioned M. de B.

I was almost dazed as I went down the stairs, and there were tears running down my cheeks, though I had no idea why I was crying. I went into the nearest café, sat at a table, buried my face in my hands and tried to sort out my conflicting emotions. I scarcely dared recall what I had just heard, but tried to think it was some illusion, and once or twice nearly went back to the flat intending to act as though nothing had happened. It seemed so impossible that Manon had deceived me that I felt it was insulting even to suspect her. I worshipped her; that was certain, and she had returned my love no less ardently. How could I accuse her of being any less sincere and loyal than I had been? What possible reason could she have for deceiving me? Scarcely three hours before she had lavished the most affectionate caresses on me, and had received mine with every appearance of passionate abandon. I felt that I could be as sure of her heart as I was of my own. ‘No, no,’ I kept on saying to myself, ‘it can’t be true. She could never betray me, for she knows that I live for her alone, that I adore her. There is nothing in that to make her hate me.’

And yet – how could I explain M. de B.’s visit, and especially his furtive departure? And what about Manon’s little luxuries, which certainly went far beyond our present means? It all smacked of the generosity of a new lover. How else could I explain the confident way she relied on resources I must know nothing about? I was hard put to it to find as favourable an answer to these riddles as I should have liked. But on the other hand she had scarcely been out of my sight since we came to Paris. In the daily round, out on walks or at the theatre, we had always been together for the simple reason that we could not endure to be parted for a moment. We had had to keep on declaring love to each other for fear of dying of anxiety. In short, I could scarcely remember a minute when Manon could have had dealings with anyone but me. At last I thought I had found the clue to the mystery. Of course, I said to myself, M. de B. was a man of far-reaching business connexions, and no doubt Manon’s relatives had used him as an agent for letting her have some money; she must have had some from him already and today he must have brought another instalment. All this secrecy, then? Simply a little joke of hers, so as to give me a nice surprise. Maybe she would have told me all about it if I had gone home in a normal manner instead of coming here to mope. Anyhow, she will not conceal it now, if I mention it myself.

By dint of repeating this theory to myself, I managed to stifle most of my forebodings. I went straight home, embraced Manon as though nothing were amiss, and she greeted me quite naturally. My first impulse was to let her know what I had guessed (and now I felt more sure than ever that I was right), but I held back in the hope that she would make the first move and tell me everything that had happened.

Supper was brought in, and I sat down gaily enough. The candle was on the table between us, and as it lit up her face I thought there was an uneasy look in her eyes. This uneasiness began to affect me too. I noticed that she was looking at me with an unusual expression, whether it was love or pity I could not tell, but there was something gentle and sad about it. I studied her face just as attentively as she did mine, and possibly she was equally puzzled about what was going on in my mind. Neither of us touched any food or said a word. And then I saw that her eyes were shining with tears – treacherous tears!

‘Ah, dearest Manon,’ I cried, ‘you are weeping, you are moved to tears, and you won’t tell me anything about your troubles.’ But she answered by heaving sighs which only added to my apprehension. I rose from table and begged her with all the tender solicitude of love to say why she was crying. I felt more dead than alive, and even while drying her tears I was weeping myself. The hardest heart would have melted at these signs of my grief and fear. While I was wholly concerned with her in this way, I heard some footsteps on the stairs. Somebody tapped softly on the door. Manon gave me a kiss, wrenched herself out of my arms, ran quickly into the other room and shut the door behind her. For a moment I imagined that she did not want the strangers to see the state she was in. I opened the outer door. Scarcely had I done so before I was seized by three men whom I recognized as my father’s lackeys. They did not rough-handle me, but two of them pinioned my arms while the third went through my pockets and removed the only weapon I had on me, a small knife. They apologized for being obliged to show me such scant respect, and explained, of course, that they were acting on my father’s orders and that my elder brother was waiting for me down below in a carriage. I was so taken by surprise that I let them lead me away without question or protest. Sure enough my brother was waiting in the carriage and I was put next to him. The coachman, who already had his orders, drove us at full speed to Saint-Denis. My brother embraced me with every sign of affection but did not say a word, so that I had all the leisure I needed for thinking things over.

At first it all seemed so confused that I could see no daylight at all. Clearly I had been heartlessly betrayed, but by whom? Tiberge was the first to come to mind. ‘You wretch,’ I thought to myself, ‘it’s all up with you if my suspicions prove true!’ But then I recollected that he did not know my address, so it could not have been obtained through him. I could not bring myself to accuse Manon. True, the strange mood of sadness which she had been unable to shake off, her tears and the tender kiss she had given me as she ran off, were all so many mysteries, but I was inclined to put all that down to some presentiment of disaster for us both, and even while I was deploring the accident that had torn me away from her, I was simple enough to fancy that at that very moment she was more to be pitied than I. After much cogitation I came to the conclusion that I must have been seen in the streets of Paris by some acquaintances who had passed the information on to my father. This thought comforted me, for I counted on getting out of it with some slight punishment or perhaps merely a few heavy paternal homilies. I resolved to bear everything patiently and promise to do anything I was asked, so as to make it easier to return at once to Paris and restore life and joy to my own Manon.

We soon reached Saint-Denis. My brother ascribed my strange silence to fear, and tried to cheer me up by assuring me that father’s severity need have no terrors for me provided I was ready to be tractable, dutiful and worthy of his love. But at Saint-Denis he took the precaution of making the three lackeys sleep in the same room with me. It was humiliating to find myself at the same inn where I had stopped with Manon on our journey from Amiens to Paris. The host and the servants recognized me, put two and two together and guessed my story. I overheard the host saying: ‘It’s the pretty young gentleman who called here six weeks ago with the little girl he was so taken with! Wasn’t she a beauty! And didn’t they make love, poor kids! Well, I say it’s a pity they’ve been parted.’ I pretended not to have heard, and kept out of sight as much as possible. At Saint-Denis my brother had a small chaise waiting and we set off in it very early the next morning, reaching home in the evening of the next day. He went and saw my father first and told him how willingly I had let myself be brought home, and thanks to his intervention on my behalf I was welcomed less unkindly than I had expected. Father indulged in a few general reprimands about my having absented myself without permission. Concerning my mistress, he said that I had deserved what had befallen me for having let myself fall into the clutches of an unknown woman; that he had thought me more prudent, but hoped that this little adventure would make me more sensible. I chose to interpret this speech in the way that fitted in best with my own ideas, thanked him for his kind forgiveness and promised to behave with obedience and circumspection. But in my heart I was already triumphant, for as things were turning out I was certain that I should be able to escape from the house, probably even that very night.

We sat down to supper, and I was chaffed a good deal on the ‘conquest’ I had made at Amiens and on my elopement with such a faithful mistress. But I took these barbed shafts in good part and was even rather glad of the chance they gave me to talk freely about what was continually on my mind. Suddenly, however, something father said made me prick up my ears. He mentioned perfidy and paid services on the part of M. de. B. This name gave me a shock and I begged him to explain in more detail. He turned to my brother and asked him if he had not told me the whole story. My brother answered that on the journey I had seemed so quiet that he had not thought I needed such a remedy to cure me of my folly. My father appeared to be hesitating as to whether he should go on with his explanations, but I urged him to do so with such insistence that he satisfied me, or rather tortured me with a most horrible tale.

He began by asking me whether I was still gullible enough to believe that this woman loved me. I made so bold as to declare that I was quite sure she did and that nothing could ever shake that belief. He roared with laughter. ‘Ha, ha, ha!’ he cried, ‘that’s lovely! A fine fool you are, I must say, and it’s nice to see you in this frame of mind. You know, my boy, it’s really a pity to put you into the Order of Malta; you’ve got all the ingredients for a most long-suffering and complaisant husband.’ And he added various other witticisms in the same style on what he called my silly credulity. As I made no attempt to speak, he went on to say that, according to calculations he had made, Manon had loved me for about twelve days after our departure from Amiens. ‘I know,’ he said, ‘that you left Amiens on the 28th of last month. It is now the 29th of this month. It is eleven days since M. de. B. wrote to me. Let us suppose it took him eight days to get to know your lady friend properly. So if we take eleven and eight from the thirty-one between the 28th of last month and the 29th of this, we get twelve, or thereabouts.’ More roars of laughter. I was so overcome that I was afraid I should never hold out until the end of this wretched comedy; but father began talking again: ‘You had better know, since you don’t seem to, that M. de B. has won your princess’s heart. It’s all nonsense for him to make out that he wanted to get you away from her out of purely disinterested regard for my feelings. Just as though we could expect such noble sentiments from a man of his sort. Why, he doesn’t even know me! He found out from her who your father was, and simply to get rid of you he wrote giving me your address and an account of your goings-on, taking care to give me to understand that force would be needed to make sure of you. He offered to find means of laying hands on you, and your brother caught you napping on information supplied by him and the lady herself. Now pat yourself on the back on your long success. You can conquer pretty quickly, my son, but you don’t know how to safeguard your conquests.’

I could not stand any more of this speech, every word of which pierced me to the heart. I got up and made for the door, but had only taken a few steps when I collapsed on the floor in a dead faint. I was quickly revived, but only to fall into paroxysms of weeping, interspersed with lamentations and heartrending cries. My father did his utmost to console me, for he was really very fond of me. I heard his voice but did not follow what he was saying, and in the end I begged him on bended knee and with clasped hands to let me go back to Paris and give M. de B. what he deserved. ‘No,’ I said, ‘he has never won her love; he has forced her to it; he has seduced her by some charm or even drug; he may have violated her. Manon loves me, I am certain of that. He must have threatened her at the dagger’s point to make her give me up. Oh God! could it be possible that Manon betrayed me or has ceased to care for me?’

My father realized that, in my present state of mind, nothing would stop me trying to carry out my repeated threats to rush straight back to Paris. I even kept trying to jump up and do so there and then. And so he took me to a room at the top of the house and left two servants to keep an eye on me. I was frantic; I would have given up life itself a thousand times for just one quarter of an hour in Paris, but I saw that I had given myself away so unmistakably that I would not be allowed to leave that room. I had a look at the distance from the windows to the ground, and saw at once that there was no escaping that way. So I tried cajoling the two servants, swearing to make their fortunes some day if they would let me slip away. But arguments, wheedlings, threats were in vain, and I gave up all hope, determined to die, and threw myself on the bed intending never to leave it alive. All that night and all the following day I refused the food that was brought me. In the afternoon my father came up to see me and did everything he could to comfort me, enjoining me with such urgency to eat something that I did so out of respect for his authority. For several days I ate nothing except when he was present and had to be obeyed. He persevered in finding arguments calculated to bring me back to my senses and make me see the faithlessness of the despicable Manon. It is quite true that by then I had ceased to respect her virtue – how could I respect anyone so fickle and disloyal? But her picture, her lovely features, were imprinted on my mind for ever. Yet I was not deceived. ‘I may die,’ I said, ‘and I deserve to die after so much shame and suffering, but if I died a thousand deaths how could I ever forget my heartless Manon?’

My father was astonished to see how profoundly I was affected. Knowing how honourable my principles were, and feeling certain that I must therefore scorn her for her baseness, he came to the conclusion that my constancy must come not so much from this particular passion as from a taste for women in general. He took so much to this idea that one day, prompted solely by his desire to see me happy, he sounded me about it. ‘My boy,’ he said, ‘until now I had proposed to put you into the Order of Malta, but it is plain that your natural inclinations do not lie in that direction. You are fond of pretty women. I think we shall have to find one to your liking. Tell me frankly what you think about it.’ I answered that I had ceased to draw any distinction between women, and that after my bitter experience I hated them all alike. He smiled and said, ‘I will find you one like Manon, but more dependable.’ ‘If you really want to help me,’ I said, ‘you must give her back to me. Believe me, father, she has not betrayed me, she is incapable of anything so base and cruel. I am sure that it is this treacherous B. who has tricked all three of us, you, her and me. If only you knew how affectionate and straightforward she is – I mean, if you really knew her – you would love her yourself.’

‘What a baby you are!’ he replied. ‘How can you be so blind, after all I have told you about her? She handed you over to your brother herself, I tell you. You ought to put even her name out of your mind and have the sense to make the best of my leniency.’ I realized all too clearly that he was right, but some involuntary impulse made me still want to take her part. ‘Ah! yes,’ I went on after a pause, ‘it is all too true that I am the wretched dupe of the meanest of tricks. Yes, I agree that I must still be only a baby, for they found it the easiest thing in the world to exploit my gullibility. But I know what to do for revenge.’ My father wanted to know what I meant. ‘I shall go to Paris,’ I said, ‘set fire to B.’s house and burn him and Manon alive.’ There were tears of mortification running down my cheeks; this silly outburst made my father laugh again and only made him redouble his vigilance.

I was imprisoned in this way for six whole months. The first month saw little change in my state of mind. I continually alternated between extremes of hate and love, hope and despair, according to the particular memory of Manon that came uppermost in my mind. Half the time I conjured up a vision of her as the most lovable of women and longed with all my heart to see her again, but the other half I saw her as a vicious and deceitful whore and resolved with all sorts of oaths to hunt her out and punish her. But in time I began to read the books that were given me, and reading brought back a certain amount of calm. I re-read all the great authors and widened my field of knowledge by adding new ones. My old taste for study returned, and you will see later what use I was to make of it. My own experience of love opened my eyes to the meaning of many a passage in Horace and Virgil which had always been obscure before. I wrote a sentimental commentary on the fourth book of the Aeneid; I still hope to publish it and venture to think the public will find it interesting. As I worked on it I reflected that what the hapless Dido needed was a heart like mine.

One day Tiberge came to see me in my prison. The warmth of his affection quite took me by surprise, for so far I had not had any proofs of his feelings towards me which justified my thinking of them as anything more than the usual college friendship which springs up between young fellows of about the same age. In the five or six months since I had last seen him, he had developed and matured so much that his expression and tone of voice commanded my respect. He spoke more like a wise counsellor than a school friend, deploring my excesses and welcoming my recovery which he thought well under way. He finished by exhorting me to learn from this youthful indiscretion and open my eyes to the vanity of all sensual pleasures. But at this point he noticed the astonishment in my face, for he went on: ‘My dear fellow, I am saying nothing that is not founded on solid truth, and I have only reached this conviction after long and careful thought. There was a time when I was as much given to sensual gratification as you are, but God also gave me a love of virtue. I used my intelligence and compared the fruits of sin with those of virtue, and, God helping me, I soon found out the difference. The world has no charms for me now. Can you guess what has kept me in the world and prevented me from seeking the peace of the solitary life? Simply my friendship for you. I know your qualities of heart and mind and that there is no good thing you are not capable of. The lust of the flesh has led you astray, and what a loss it has been for the forces of good! Your flight from Amiens was such a grievous shock to me that I have not had a moment’s happiness since. You can tell the truth of that by all the things I have felt impelled to do. Listen.’

He told me how, after realizing that I had deceived him and gone off with Manon, he had taken horse to follow me, but as we had four or five hours’ start he had found it impossible to overtake me. Nevertheless he had reached Saint-Denis only half an hour after I had left. Being fairly certain that I would stay in Paris, he had spent six weeks vainly searching for me; he had been to all the places where he thought I might be found, and eventually one day he had recognized Manon in a theatre. She was so gorgeously attired that he thought she must owe such opulence to a new lover. He had followed her carriage home and found out from a servant that she was being kept by M. de B. ‘But I didn’t leave it at that,’ he continued. ‘I went back there the next day to find out from her what had become of you. As soon as I mentioned your name she rudely turned her back on me, and I had to return to the country without finding out anything else. There I heard of your adventure and of your subsequent breakdown, but I did not want to see you until I was sure of finding you calmer.’

‘So you have seen Manon!’ I answered. ‘You are luckier than I am, for I am doomed never to set eyes on her again.’ And I heaved a sigh. That sigh revealed how little resistance I had as far as she was concerned, and he did not like it, but he adroitly diverted the talk to the flattering subject of my character and real inclinations, and he did it so well that, even during that first visit of his, I began to conceive a strong desire to give up all worldly pleasures and, like him, enter the priesthood.

So strongly did this idea appeal to me that my mind came back to it whenever I was alone. I recalled the same advice that had been given to me by the bishop of Amiens, and the glowing picture he had painted of my prospects if I made up my mind to go into the Church. But these meditations of mine were not without a certain admixture of genuine piety. I resolved to lead a good Christian life devoted to study and religion, which would leave me no time to dally with dangerous visions of love. I would scorn what most men admire, and as the desires of my heart were henceforth to be founded on reason and respect alone, I should have as few worries as desires. Along these lines I mapped out a plan for the peaceful and solitary life. The ingredients included a sequestered cottage with a little copse and a babbling brook at the end of the garden, a library of choice books, a select number of virtuous and intellectual friends and good but frugal and wholesome fare. I threw in a literary correspondence with a friend in Paris who kept me informed about the news – not so much to gratify my idle curiosity as to entertain me with the distant spectacle of the vain and feverish pursuits of men. ‘What bliss will be mine!’ I thought, ‘and will not all my ambitions be satisfied?’ These projects were calculated to flatter all my natural tendencies. But when all these sage deliberations were over, I felt that there was something still wanting, and that to make this peaceful retirement delightful beyond all possibility of improvement Manon would have to be there.

Meanwhile Tiberge frequently came to see me and did his best to encourage me to follow up the plan he had suggested, and I seized a chance to broach the matter with my father. He declared that he wished to leave his children a free choice of career and that, whatever I were to decide, he would not interfere but only give me his advice. And the advice he gave me was very wise and, far from turning me away from my project, it made me go into it with my eyes open. It was almost time for the beginning of the academic year, and I agreed with Tiberge that we would go up together to the seminary of Saint-Sulpice, where he could finish his theology and I could start mine. He was very well thought of by the bishop of our diocese, and through him he was awarded a generous grant before we left.