Manon Lescaut Chapter 2

I HAVE noticed all through my life that Heaven has always chosen the time when my happiness seemed most firmly established for aiming its cruellest blows at me. I thought I was so happy with Manon’s love and the friendship of M. de T. that it would have been impossible to convince me that I had any new disaster to fear. But even then a new one was being prepared so terrible that it reduced me to the state you saw me in at Pacy, and by degrees to such deplorable straits that you will scarcely be able to believe that my story is true.

One day we had M. de T. with us for supper and we heard a carriage draw up at the door. Curiosity made us wish to know who could be arriving at such an hour, and we were told that it was young G. M., that is to say the son of our most implacable enemy, the old profligate who had sent me to Saint-Lazare and Manon to the Hôpital. The name brought the blood rushing to my cheeks. ‘Heaven has led him here,’ I said, ‘to be punished for his father’s misdeeds. He will not get away before he has crossed swords with me.’ M. de T., who knew him – indeed he was one of his closest friends – tried to induce me to think differently of him, assuring me that he was a very good fellow and so incapable of having had any share in his father’s actions that I would not set eyes on him for a moment without feeling respect for him and wanting to have his. He added many other flattering things about him and begged me to let him go and invite him to come and sit at our table and join us for the remainder of our supper. He forestalled the objection that Manon might be exposed to danger if her whereabouts were known to the son of our enemy, by swearing on his faith and honour that when he got to know us we could not have a more zealous champion. After such assurances I made no further demur.

Before bringing him in, M. de T. spent a moment explaining to him who we were. The air with which he came in certainly made a favourable impression upon us. He embraced me. We sat down. He had a word of appreciation for Manon, me and everything that belonged to us, and he ate with a relish that did honour to our meal.

When the table had been cleared, conversation became more serious. As he referred to his father’s vindictiveness towards us, he lowered his eyes and made the most abject apologies. ‘I pass quickly over all that,’ he said, ‘so as not to revive a memory which fills me with shame.’ If his protestations were sincere from the outset, they became still more so as time went on, for before he had talked in this way for half an hour I noticed the effect Manon’s charms were having on him. Gradually his eyes and his manner became more languishing. He did not let anything show in his words, but, without needing any help from jealousy, I had too much experience of love not to be able to discern whatever sprang from that source. He stayed with us well into the night and before leaving said how happy he was to have met us, and asked permission to come again and renew his offers of friendship. He went off early next morning, taking M. de T. with him in his carriage.

As I have said, I did not have any feeling of jealousy, for I accepted Manon’s word more implicitly than ever. That lovely creature was so completely mistress of my heart that I harboured no emotions other than respect and love. Far from blaming her for having attracted young G. M., I was most gratified by the power of her charms and congratulated myself on being loved by a woman whom everybody found so lovable. I did not even think there was any point in revealing my suspicions to her. For some days we were busy having her clothes fitted and wondering whether we could go to the theatre without risk of being recognized. M. de T. came to see us before the week was out, and we asked his advice. He realized that he had to say yes to please Manon, and we decided to go that same evening with him.

But this project could not be carried out, for he at once drew me aside, and this is what he said: ‘I have been most worried since I saw you, and that is why I have come here today. G. M. is in love with your mistress; he has admitted as much to me. I am his intimate friend, and anxious to do anything for him, but I am just as much yours. I consider his intentions wrong and I have told him so. I would have respected the confidence he placed in me if he had intended to use normal means to gain his end, but he knows all about Manon’s character. I cannot say where he has found out, but he certainly has, that she is fond of luxury and pleasure, and as he is already quite well off he has told me that he means to begin by tempting her with some very costly present and the offer of ten thousand livres a year. Other things being equal, I might have been much more reluctant to give him away, but my sense of justice, together with feelings of friendship, have made me do this for you; particularly as, having by my imprudence been the cause of his passion by bringing him here, I am in honour bound to prevent the effects of the evil I have caused.’

I thanked M. de T. for having done me such an important service, and returned his confidence by admitting to him that Manon’s character was in fact what G. M. supposed, I mean that she could not bear the word poverty. ‘But,’ I went on, ‘if it is only a question of more money or less, I do not think she is capable of giving me up for another man. I am in a position to give her everything within reason, and I reckon that my resources will grow from day to day. There is only one thing I am afraid of, and that is that G. M. may take advantage of this knowledge of our whereabouts and do us some bad turn.’ M. de T. was sure that I need have no anxiety on that score. G. M., he said, was capable of an amorous indiscretion, but not of stooping to a dastardly trick; if he were mean enough to do such a thing, he himself would be the first to punish him and thereby make amends for the wrong he had done me by making it possible. ‘I am much obliged to you for such kind words,’ I said, ‘but by that time the mischief would be done and the remedy would be very questionable. The wisest counsel seems therefore to forestall it by leaving Chaillot and going somewhere else to live.’ ‘Yes,’ said M. de T., ‘but you will have your work cut out to do so as quickly as you ought, for G. M. is due here at noon; he told me so yesterday, and that is what has made me come so early to tell you what he has in mind. He may be here any moment.’

The urgency of this warning made me look into the affair more seriously. As it seemed impossible to avoid G. M.’s visit, and it would probably be equally difficult to prevent his opening his heart to Manon, I decided to forewarn her myself of the plans of this new rival. I imagined that if she knew that I was aware of the proposals he was going to make, and if they were made before my eyes, she would find enough courage to turn them down. I let M. de T. see what I had in mind, and his answer was that it was all very delicate. ‘Yes, I grant you that,’ I said, ‘but, if anyone can be sure of such a thing, I certainly have all the grounds for being sure of her affection. The only thing that might dazzle her is the mere size of the bait held out, and I have already told you that she is not interested in money. She likes her comforts, but she also likes me, and in the present state of my finances I cannot believe that she would throw me over for the son of the man who clapped her into the Hôpital.’ In short, I persisted in my ideas, drew Manon to one side and told her frankly everything I had just learned.

She thanked me for my good opinion of her and promised to receive G. M.’s offers in a way that would leave him no desire to start them again. ‘No, don’t do that,’ I said, ‘you must not upset him by being rude: he might be in a position to be dangerous. But,’ I laughingly went on, ‘you little hussy, you know all there is to know about getting rid of unpleasant or tiresome lovers.’ She pondered for a little while and then said: ‘I have thought of a first-rate plan and I am very proud of my ingenuity. G. M. is the son of our most cruel enemy; we must pay out the father, rather than the son, by taking revenge on his purse. I mean to listen to him, accept his presents, and then play him up.’ ‘It is a pretty idea,’ I said, ‘but, my poor dear, you forget that was the road which led us straight to the Hôpital.’ It was all very well for me to point out the dangers of such a course; she replied that it was merely a matter of setting about it properly, and overrode all my objections. If you can name me one lover who does not blindly subscribe to every whim of the woman he worships, I will admit that it was wrong of me to give in so easily. And so the decision to make a fool of G. M. was taken, and by a strange twist of my destiny it turned out that it was he who made the fool of me.

His coach appeared at about eleven. He made some very well-turned compliments about taking the liberty of coming to dine with us. He was not surprised to find M. de T. there, for he had promised the day before that he would come too, but had pretended to have some business or other so as to avoid having to come in the same carriage. We all sat down with outward signs of confidence and friendship, although there was not one of us who did not harbour treachery in his heart. G. M. found a very easy chance of declaring his sentiments to Manon. I must have seemed very obliging, for I left the table for a few minutes for that express purpose. On my return I noticed that he had not been reduced to despair by any excessive severity. He was in the best of spirits. I made a point of appearing so too; he was laughing inwardly at my gullibility and I at his. All through the afternoon each of us provided a diverting spectacle for the other. Before he left I arranged for him to have a moment of private talk with Manon, so that he had grounds for being as gratified by my complaisance as by my good dinner.

As soon as he had climbed into his carriage with M. de T., Manon rushed at me with outstretched arms, hugged me and gave vent to peals of laughter. She repeated his speeches and suggestions word for word, and they boiled down to this: he adored her, he wanted to share with her the forty thousand livres a year that he already enjoyed, apart from what he expected after his father’s death, she was to be mistress of his heart and fortune, and by way of a pledge of his benefactions he was prepared to give her a coach, a furnished house, a maid, three lackeys and a chef. ‘Here we have a son very much more generous than his father,’ I said. ‘Now, honestly, doesn’t this offer tempt you just a little?’

‘Me?’ she answered, and adapted some lines of Racine to fit her idea:

Moi! vous me soupçonnez de cette perfidie?

Moi! je pourrais souffrir un visage odieux

Qui rappelle toujours l’Hôpital à mes yeux?

‘No,’ I went on, taking up the parody:

J’aurais peine à penser que I’Hôpital, madame,

Fût un trait dont l’amour l’eût gravé dans votre âme.*16

‘but what about a furnished house with a coach and three lackeys? There is something very seductive about that, and Love has few more deadly weapons.’ She protested that her heart was mine for ever, and that it would never succumb to any other attacks but mine. ‘The promises he has made are a stab demanding vengeance rather than a wound from Cupid’s bow,’ she said. I asked her whether she intended to accept the house and carriage and she answered that she was only after his money. The difficulty was to get the one without the other. We decided to wait for the full statement of his projects which G. M. had promised to send in a letter. It was duly delivered the next day by a lackey not in livery who very skilfully found means of speaking to her without witnesses. She told him to wait for the answer, and brought the letter straight to me. We opened it together. Apart from the commonplaces of love-making, it contained my rival’s offers in detail. He stopped at no expense, but undertook to hand over ten thousand francs when she took possession of the house, and to make up any depletions of that sum so that she could always have it by her in cash. The day of setting up house was not delayed very long, for he wanted only two days for the preparations, and he gave her the name of the street and of the house where he promised to meet her on the afternoon of the second day, if she could evade my clutches. That was the only thing he asked her to reassure him about; apparently everything else was quite settled in his mind, but he added that if she foresaw any difficulty in escaping he would find some way of facilitating her flight.

G. M. was sharper than his father. He meant to have his bird in hand before counting out his money. We discussed what line Manon was to take, and once again I did everything I could to get her to put the scheme out of her mind, pointing out all the risks; but nothing could shake her determination.

She wrote a short note to G. M., assuring him that she would have no trouble in going to Paris on the day in question and that he could confidently expect her. We then settled that I was to go at once and take new lodgings in some village on the far side of Paris, and move our few belongings with me. The following afternoon, that is to say on the day of her assignation, she should go in good time to Paris, and after receiving G. M.’s presents beg him to take her to the Comedy; she should take on her person as much of the money as she could carry and entrust the rest to my valet, whom she proposed to take with her. This was the same man who helped her to escape from the Hôpital, and he was devoted to us both. I was to have a cab ready at the corner of the Rue Saint-André-des-Arts, and at about seven o’clock leave it there and proceed under cover of darkness into the doorway of the theatre. Manon promised to make some excuse for leaving her box for a minute, and she would use that minute to come down and join me. The rest would be easy. In a trice we should get back to my cab and leave Paris by the Faubourg Saint-Antoine through which lay the road to our new home.

Far-fetched as it was, this plan sounded quite well concocted. But in reality it was absurdly rash of us to suppose that, even if it had gone off without a hitch, we could ever have evaded pursuit. And yet we laid ourselves open with the most foolhardy self-confidence. Manon left with Marcel, our valet. I felt very sad at seeing her go, and as I kissed her I said: ‘You are not deceiving me, Manon? You will be true to me won’t you?’ She tenderly scolded me for my lack of trust, and repeated all her protestations.

Her idea was to get to Paris about three. I left a little later and went and froze all the afternoon at the Café de Féré, by the Pont Saint-Michel. I stayed there until nightfall and then left to take a cab which I posted at the corner of the Rue Saint-André-des-Arts, as we had arranged.17 Then I walked to the door of the theatre. I was surprised not to find Marcel, who should have been waiting for me there. I waited patiently for an hour amidst a crowd of lackeys, anxiously scanning all the passers-by. At length, when it was well past seven and I had seen nothing with any bearing on our plan, I bought a ticket for the floor of the house in order to see whether Manon and G. M. were to be found in the boxes. They were not, either of them. I went back to the door, where I spent another quarter of an hour in a fever of impatience and anxiety. But I saw nothing, could not make up my mind to do anything definite, and so found my way back to the cab. The driver saw me and came forward a few steps to meet me, saying mysteriously that a pretty young lady had been waiting in the carriage for an hour. She had asked for me, giving a description that he recognized, and having been told that I was coming back she had said that she would not mind waiting. I supposed it must be Manon, and hurried on. But I saw a pretty little face that did not belong to her. It was a stranger, who began by asking if she had not the honour of addressing M. le Chevalier des Grieux. I said that was my name. She said she had a letter to give me that would explain why she had come and how she had the advantage of knowing my name. I asked her for time to read it in a nearby tavern. She insisted on coming too, advising me to ask for a private room. ‘Who sent this letter?’ I said as we went upstairs. She said I would find out when I read it.

I recognized Manon’s hand. This is roughly what she said: G. M. had welcomed her with elegance and splendour beyond her wildest dreams. He had loaded her with gifts and held out before her the fortune of a queen. Notwithstanding, she did not forget me in her grand new surroundings, so she assured me, but as she had not been able to persuade G. M. to take her to the Comedy she had had to postpone the pleasure of seeing me until another day. But to make up a little for the disappointment she foresaw this news might give me, she had managed to procure me one of the prettiest girls in Paris, who was the bearer of her letter. Signed: Your faithful love, Manon Lescaut.

There was something to me so cruel and insulting in this letter, that for some time I remained suspended between rage and grief, and determined to make an effort to put the memory of my lying and thankless mistress out of my mind for ever. I glanced at the girl in front of me. She was exceedingly pretty, and I could have wished she were sufficiently so to make me forsworn and unfaithful in my turn. But I did not find those soft and lovely eyes, that godlike carriage, that complexion mixed in Love’s own palette – in a word the inexhaustible wealth of charms which Nature had lavished on my faithless Manon. ‘No, no,’ I said, looking away from her, ‘the perfidious creature who sent you knew quite well that she was giving you a fruitless errand. Go back to her, and tell her from me to enjoy her crime, and enjoy it without compunction if she can. I cast her off for ever, and all other women with her, for they could never be as charming as she is and are probably just as wicked and faithless.’ I was on the point of going downstairs and away, leaving behind me all claims on Manon, and, as the deadly jealousy rending my heart took the form of sullen and gloomy calm, I thought I was all the nearer being cured because I felt none of the violent reactions that had tortured me on similar occasions. But alas, I was just as much the dupe of love as I thought I was of G. M. and Manon.

The girl who had brought the letter, seeing me on the point of going downstairs, asked what message I wanted her to take back to M. de G. M. and the lady with him. The question made me turn back into the room, and with one of those sudden revulsions unbelievable to those who have never felt violent passion, I found myself thrown from the peace of mind I thought was mine into a terrible outburst of rage. ‘Go and retail to the traitor G. M. and his wicked mistress the despair I have been plunged into by her accursed letter,’ I said, ‘but tell them they won’t have the laugh of me for long, and that I shall strike them both down with my own dagger.’ I dropped into a chair, and my hat fell to the floor on one side and my stick on the other, and tears began to run down my cheeks as my fit of rage turned into abject misery. I was reduced to weeping, groans and sighs. ‘Come here, my child,’ I said to the girl. ‘Come here, since you have been sent to console me. Tell me whether you know of any consolation for rage and despair, any cure for a desire to make an end of oneself after killing two wretches who do not deserve to live.’ She took a few hesitant steps towards me and I went on: ‘Yes, come here, come and dry my tears and bring some peace back to my heart; say you love me, so that I can get used to being loved by someone else besides that deceitful woman. You are pretty; I might be able to return your love.’ The poor child, who was not more than sixteen or seventeen, seemed to have more delicacy about her than most of her type, and she was extremely surprised by such strange behaviour, but still she came and tried to give me a few caresses. I immediately thrust her aside, however. ‘What do you expect from me?’ I said, ‘you are a woman, you belong to a sex which I abominate and have finished with for good. The sweetness of your face is just another threat of treachery. Go away and leave me alone.’ She curtseyed without daring to say a word, and made to go out. I called out to her to stop: ‘But at least you might tell me why, how and for what purpose you were sent here. How did you know my name and find out where I was?’

She said that she had known M. de G. M. for some time, and that he had sent for her at five o’clock. She had gone with the lackey who had brought the message, and found herself in a grand house where he was playing piquet with a pretty lady. They had told her that she would find me in a carriage at the corner of the Rue Saint-André-des-Arts, and instructed her to give me the letter she had brought. I asked whether they had said anything else. She blushed, and said that they had given her to hope that I would take her to keep me company. ‘Then they cheated you,’ I said, ‘they cheated you, poor girl. You are a woman, and what you need is a man. But he must be a rich and happy man, and you cannot find him here. Go back to M. de G. M., go back to him! He has everything necessary for winning the love of pretty women; he has furnished houses and carriages to give away. As for me, I have nothing to offer but love and constancy. Women scorn my poverty and use my simplicity for their sport.’

And I added a thousand pathetic or violent things according to which of my passions came uppermost. But at length through continual fretting I calmed down sufficiently to be able to reflect a little. I compared this last misfortune which those of the same kind I had already undergone, and I found that there was no more cause for despair in the one than in the others. I knew what Manon was: why go on upsetting myself about a misfortune I ought to have foreseen? Would it not be better to set about finding a remedy? There was still time. If I did not want to have to reproach myself for letting my troubles win by default, then at least I had better spare no pains in setting them right. Thereupon I began to consider all the means which might open a way to hope.

To attempt to snatch her from G. M.’s grasp by force was a desperate method only likely to be my undoing and with no chance of being successful. But I felt that if I could have secured even a few words of private talk with her, I would undoubtedly have had some effect on her heart. I knew the vulnerable spots of that heart so well! I was so sure of being loved by her! I could have wagered that even this fantastic notion of sending a pretty girl to comfort me came from her and had its origin in her compassion for my sorrow. So I resolved to devote all my ingenuity to seeing her. Having turned several ways over in my mind, I finally settled on this one: the willingness with which M. de T. had begun to do me kindnesses was too clear for me to have any doubts left as to his sincerity and zeal. I decided to go to him at once and ask him to send for G. M., alleging urgent business. Half an hour was all I needed for seeing Manon. My plan was to find a way of getting into her room, and I thought that would be simple so long as G. M. were out of the way.

I felt easier in my mind when I had come to this decision. The girl was still there, and I paid her generously and took her address, giving her to hope that I would go and spend the night with her, which would prevent her wanting to return to those who had sent her. Then I went back to my cab and had myself driven as quickly as possible to M. de T.’s. On the way I was afraid I might not find him at home, but fortunately he was in, and in a very few words I told him my trouble and what I wanted him to do for me. He was so amazed to learn that G. M. had succeeded in seducing Manon that, all unaware of the part I myself had played in my own undoing, he generously offered to rally all his friends and get them to rescue my mistress by force of arms. I pointed out that a sensation of that kind might well be disastrous for Manon and me. ‘No,’ I said, ‘let us save our blood for the last resort. I have in mind a more peaceful way which I hope will be no less successful.’ He undertook unreservedly to do anything I asked, and when I repeated that all I wished him to do was to let G. M. know that he wanted to speak to him and then keep him out of the way for an hour or two, he set off with me at once to do his best for me.

We discussed what pretext he could use for delaying G. M. so long. I advised him to begin by sending him a straightforward note from some tavern, asking him to go there at once about a matter so urgent that it would brook no delay. ‘And then,’ I went on, ‘I will watch out for his departure and get into the house without any trouble, since the only people who know me there are Manon and Marcel, who is my personal servant. Your part of the business is this: by then you will have G. M. with you, and you can tell him that the urgent matter you want to see him about is one of money – you have just lost all yours at cards, and pledged a great deal more with no better luck. He will need some time to take you to his strong-box, and that will give me enough to carry out my purpose.’

M. de T. followed out this arrangement to the letter. I left him in a tavern where he at once wrote his note, took up my position a few yards away from Manon’s house, saw the messenger come and G. M. leave immediately afterwards, followed by a lackey. Angry though I was at her perfidy, I knocked at her door as respectfully as at a temple. Luckily Marcel opened, and I signed to him to hold his tongue. Although I had nothing to fear from the other servants, I asked him in a whisper to take me to the room where Manon was without my being seen. He said that was quite easily done by going softly up the main staircase. ‘Quickly, then,’ I said, ‘and try to prevent anybody else from going up while I am there.’ I reached her room without any trouble.

Manon was reading. It was at that moment that I had cause to marvel at that strange woman’s character. Far from being afraid or appearing embarrassed at seeing me there, she merely betrayed the mild surprise which is involuntary when you see somebody you think is far away. ‘Ah, my dear, is it you?’ she said, and came and kissed me as tenderly as usual. ‘Good Heavens! you are daring! Who would have expected to see you today, and here, too!’ I did not return her caresses, but freed myself from her arms, pushed her away with scorn and stepped back a pace or two so as to keep her at a distance. This movement of mine did not fail to disconcert her, and she remained fixed in the same position, turning pale as she looked at me. But in my heart I was so overjoyed at seeing her again that I could scarcely bring myself to say a hard word to her, despite all the grounds I had for being angry. Yet my heart was bleeding at the cruel outrage she had done me. I quickly called all this to mind in an attempt to fan the flames of my indignation, and I tried to make my eyes blaze with other fires than those of love. As I remained silent for some time and my agitation was apparent to her, she trembled, seemingly with fear.

I could not bear this. ‘Oh Manon,’ I said, and now my voice was full of tenderness, ‘you false and perverse creature, how shall I begin to reproach you? I see you are pale and trembling, and I am still so affected by the slightest sign of sadness in you that I am all too anxious not to hurt you by my criticisms. Yet I do say this, Manon: the grief of your disloyalty has cut me to the heart. You cannot wound a lover like this unless you mean to kill him. This is the third time, Manon – oh yes, I have kept count – and such things cannot be forgotten. You must make up your mind what line you are going to take, and you must do so at once, for I am too sick at heart to stand up any longer to such brutal treatment. My heart is ready to break with grief, I feel it giving up the struggle. I cannot go on,’ I finished, dropping into a chair, ‘I can hardly find the strength to speak or stand up.’

She made no answer, but knelt down and put her head on my knees, with her face hidden in my hands which I at once felt wet with her tears. God! with what emotions I was torn at that moment! ‘Oh, Manon, Manon,’ I sighed, ‘it is very late in the day to offer me your tears when you have led me to the brink of death. You are putting on a sadness you cannot be feeling, since I suppose your greatest worry at this moment is my presence here, for I have always stood in the way of your pleasures. Open your eyes. Look and see who I am; one does not shed tears for a poor devil one has heartlessly betrayed and thrown over.’ She did not move, but fell to kissing my hands. ‘You inconstant creature,’ I went on, ‘ungrateful and faithless woman, where are all your vows and promises? Most fickle and cruel of lovers, what have you done with that love you were swearing was mine even today? God of justice, is this the way a wanton laughs at You after having so piously called You to witness? Lying gets all the recompenses, then, whilst despair and loneliness are the rewards of constancy and fidelity!’

As I uttered these words there came to my mind such bitter thoughts that in spite of myself I began weeping. Manon realized this by the change in my voice, and at last she broke her silence: ‘I suppose I must be very wicked,’ she mused sadly, ‘since I have given you such pain and grief, but may Heaven punish me if I thought I was, or even dreamed of becoming so.’ These words struck me as so devoid of all meaning or good faith that I could not restrain a fit of violent anger. ‘What disgusting play-acting!’ I cried. ‘Now I can see more clearly than ever that you are nothing but a liar and a whore. Now I know your mean little character. Good-bye, you despicable creature,’ I said, rising to go, ‘I would rather die a thousand deaths than have anything more to do with you. May Heaven punish me as well if I ever do you the honour of setting eyes on you again. Stay with your new lover, give yourself to him and hate me, give up honour and common sense; I can just laugh now, it’s all the same to me!’

She was so frightened by this outburst that she remained on her knees by the chair which I had left, gazing at me, trembling and not daring to breathe. I moved on a few more steps towards the door, but with my head turned and my eyes fixed on her. But to harden my heart against such loveliness as hers I should have had to lose every human feeling, and I was so far removed from having such inhuman strength, that I suddenly flew from one extreme to the other, returned to her, or rather rushed without stopping to think, seized her in my arms and kissed her passionately. I implored her forgiveness for my fit of temper, admitted that I was a brute and unworthy of the happiness of being loved by a woman like her. I made her sit down and in my turn knelt before her and begged her to listen to me, there, as I was. On my knees I poured into my hurried apologies everything that an obedient and devoted lover can imagine to express his respect and adoration. I begged her, as an act of clemency, to say she forgave me. She dropped her arms round my neck and said that it was she who needed all my forbearance so that she could wipe away from my memory all the pain she had given me. She said that she was beginning to fear, and rightly, that I might not relish anything she had to say to justify herself. ‘I!’ was my immediate rejoinder; ‘who am I to ask you for justifications? I approve of everything you have done. It is not for me to ask reasons for your behaviour. I am only too happy if you do not deny me your love, my dearest Manon. But,’ I went on, as the thought of my present condition came back to me, ‘how absolute your power must be, Manon, for you can make my joy and sorrow as you please. Now I have made humble amends and given proof of my repentance, may I speak of my sadness and sufferings? Am I to learn what is to become of me today, and whether you are going to sign my irrevocable death-warrant by spending the night with my rival?’

She took some time to think out her answer.

‘My dear,’ she said, and her tone was now quite calm, ‘if you had explained all that at the outset, you would have spared yourself a great deal of sorrow and me a most distressing scene. Since your misery only comes from jealousy, I would have cured it by offering to follow you at once to the ends of the earth. But I imagined that it was the letter I wrote you under G. M.’s eyes and the girl we sent that had upset you. I thought you might have regarded my letter as a piece of mockery, and that girl (if you supposed she had come to you on my orders) as a declaration that I had given you up for G. M. It was this thought that threw me into a panic just now, for, all innocent as I was, it occurred to me when I came to think about it, that appearances were not very kind to me. However, I want you to be my judge when I have explained the true facts.’

She then told me everything that had happened since she found G. M. waiting for her where we now were. And certainly he had received her like the greatest princess in the world. He

had shown her over all the rooms, which were in sumptuous and impeccable taste. Then he had counted out ten thousand livres in his study and had given them to her with some jewellery, including the pearl necklace and bracelets she had already had from his father. From there he had led her into a salon she had not yet seen in which she had found an exquisite meal served. She was waited on by new servants he had engaged for her with instructions to treat her as their mistress. Finally he had taken her to see the coach, horses and all the other presents, after which he had suggested a game of cards to while away the time until supper. ‘I admit,’ she said, ‘that I was impressed by all this magnificence, and it seemed to me that it would be a pity to spoil our chances of so much money in the long run, by merely being content to disappear there and then with the ten thousand francs and the jewels. Here was a fortune ready to drop into our hands, and you and I might live very comfortably at G. M.’s expense. Instead of suggesting the theatre, I took it into my head to sound him about you, so as to get an idea of our chances of seeing one another if my plan came off successfully. I found him very easy to manage. He asked me what I felt about you and whether I had any regrets about leaving you. I said that you were so charming and had always been so good to me that it was hardly to be expected that I could dislike you. He admitted that you were a good fellow and that he had been drawn to you as a friend. He wanted to know how I thought you would take my leaving you, particularly when you found out that I was in his hands. I told him that our love affair was already of such long standing that our passion had had time to cool off somewhat; also that you were rather uneasy about it, and might not take losing me as a very great disaster, because it would free you from a burden which you were beginning to find irksome. I added that I had not found it difficult to allege that I was going to Paris on business, because I knew that you would not make a fuss, and that you had agreed and come along yourself and not seemed particularly upset when I had left you. “If I thought,” he said, “that he would be prepared to be on good terms with me, I

would be the first to pay my respects and offer him my services.” I said that from what I knew of your character I was sure that you would respond to such a gesture, especially if he could render you some assistance in your business affairs, which had been in a precarious state since you had broken with your family. He hastened to say that he would do you any service that lay in his power, and even, supposing you felt inclined to embark on another love affair, procure you a pretty girl he had just given up in order to live with me. I applauded this idea as to forestall any suspicions he might have, and, becoming more and more en-amoured of my scheme, I only wished I could find a way of letting you know what was afoot, for fear of your being too alarmed when you missed me at the meeting-place. That is why I suggested his sending you this new mistress that very evening; it was so as to have a pretext for writing to you. I was obliged to have recourse to this trick because I could not expect him to leave me free for a single moment. My proposal made him laugh. He called for his lackey, asked him if he could find his ex-mistress at once, and dispatched him here and there in search of her. He thought that she would have to go to Chaillot to find you, but I told him that when I left you I had promised to meet you at the theatre or, if anything prevented my going there, you had undertaken to wait for me in a carriage at the corner of the Rue Saint-André. Therefore, I thought, we had better send your new young lady there, if only to save you from freezing at the street corner all night. I also said that it would be advisable to write you a line to explain the exchange, which otherwise you might find a little difficult to understand. He agreed, but I had to write in his presence, and I was careful not to put things too explicitly in my letter. And that,’ Manon concluded, ‘is how things happened. I am keeping nothing back, either of what I did or of what I proposed to do. The girl came, she struck me as pretty and, as I felt sure that my absence would make you unhappy, I was quite sincere in wishing that she might alleviate a little of your boredom, for the fidelity I expect of you is that of the heart. I would have been only too glad to send you Marcel, but I could

not find a single moment to tell him what I wanted you to know.’ At length she wound up her story by recounting how vexed G. M. had been when he received M. de T.’s letter. ‘He hesitated,’ she said, ‘as to whether he should leave me, and promised to be back without delay. That is why I cannot see you here now without uneasiness, and why I looked so surprised when you came.’