Manon Lescaut Chapter 3

I HEARD this tale through very patiently. It is true that it contained many cruel and mortifying things from my point of view, for her disloyal intentions were so clear that she had not even taken the trouble to disguise them. She could hardly expect G. M. to leave her alone all that night like a vestal virgin, and it was therefore with him that she proposed to spend it. What an admission to make to a lover! And yet I reflected that I was partly responsible for her doing this, through having made G. M.’s sentiments known to her in the first instance and through my complaisance in blindly lending myself to the rash idea of this adventure. Besides, by a natural reaction peculiar to my type of mind, I was impressed by the candour of her story and by the frank and open way she retailed even circumstances most calculated to give me offence. I told myself that there was no malice in her sins; she was fickle and imprudent but straightforward and honest. Moreover, of course, love was in itself enough to shut my eyes to all her misdeeds. I was only too delighted at the prospect of snatching her back from my rival that very night. And yet I said to her: ‘And with whom would you have spent tonight?’ The question, and the misery in my voice as I put it, threw her off her guard, and she only answered in disjointed buts and ifs. I took pity on her embarrassment, changed the subject and said flatly that I expected her to follow me there and then. ‘Yes, I would like to,’ she said, ‘but don’t you approve of my plan, then?’ ‘Oh, isn’t it enough,’ I answered, ‘that I approve of everything you have done up to now?’ ‘What,’ she replied, ‘aren’t we even to take away the ten thousand francs? He has given them to me. They are mine.’ I advised her to leave everything behind and only think about getting away promptly, for although I had been with her for less than half an hour, I was afraid that G. M. might come back. However, she was so pressing in her entreaties to make me agree not to go away empty-handed that I felt I had to concede something after obtaining so much from her.

While we were getting ready to go I heard a knock at the street door. I was sure it must be G. M., and in the flurry I was thrown into by this thought I cried out to Manon that if he came in he was a dead man. And it was quite true that I had not sufficiently recovered from my recent emotions to be able to see him and keep my self-control. But Marcel put an end to my anxiety by coming in with a note for me which had been handed in at the door. It was from M. de T., and informed me that G. M. had gone off to his house to find some money, and so he had taken advantage of his absence to pass on a most amusing idea of his; it seemed to him that the most enjoyable way I could take revenge on my rival would be to eat his supper and spend the night in the bed he was hoping to share with my mistress. This seemed quite simple to do, he thought, if I could find three or four men bold enough to hold him up in the street and trustworthy enough to keep him under their eyes until the next day. For his part, M. de T. undertook to keep him amused for at least another hour with various matters he had ready for his return. I showed this note to Manon and explained to her the trick I had used in order to gain free admission into her house. She was vastly amused by my ingenuity and M. de T.’s, and we gave ourselves up to a few minutes of uncontrolled merriment. But when I treated this latest idea as a joke, to my surprise she seriously urged me to do it, saying that the scheme delighted her. In vain did I ask where she expected I could find, all of a sudden, men who could waylay G. M. and hold him in safe custody. She said that I might at least try, since M. de T. guaranteed us another hour, and when I raised further objections she accused me of being tyrannical and having no consideration for her. She thought it was the prettiest plan in the world: ‘You will have his place at supper, sleep between his sheets and early tomorrow carry off his mistress and his money. You will be well revenged on both father and son.’

Despite the secret promptings of my heart, which seemed to forbode some dreadful disaster, I gave in to her entreaties. I went out, intending to get two or three guardsmen I had known through Lescaut to take on the job of waylaying G. M. I only found one at home, but he was an enterprising fellow, and no sooner had I told him what was afoot than he promised me it should come off. He asked only for ten pistoles to share out among three guardsmen whom he proposed to employ under him. I begged him to waste no time. I waited at his house while he rounded them up, which he did in less than a quarter of an hour, and when he was back with his accomplices, I myself took him to the corner of a street through which G. M. must necessarily pass on his way back to Manon’s. I told him not to handle G. M. roughly, but to keep him under close watch until seven in the morning, so that I could be sure he would not escape. He said that he planned to take him to his own room, make him undress and even lie on his bed, while he and his three stalwarts spent the night playing cards and drinking. I stayed with them until G. M. came into sight, and then I withdrew a few paces into a dark corner to witness this extraordinary scene. The guardsman accosted him, pistol in hand, and explained civilly that it was not his money or his life he was after, but that, if he made the least trouble about following him or uttered the slightest sound, he would blow his brains out. G. M., seeing him backed by three soldiers, and probably fearing he might receive the full charge from the pistol, offered no resistance. I saw him led away like a sheep. Then I went straight back to Manon, and, to allay any suspicions the servants might have, I mentioned as I came in that there was no point in waiting supper for M. de G. M., because he was detained by business that could not be neglected and had asked me to come and apologize for him and dine with her; which, I said, I regarded as a great honour with so charming a lady. She played up well to this stratagem, and we sat down to the meal, keeping a very dignified air so long as the lackeys were there serving us. When we had finally dismissed them, we had one of the most delightful evenings of our lives. I secretly ordered Marcel to find a cab and have it ready at the door before six in the morning. At about midnight I pretended to take my leave of Manon, but slipped back again quietly with Marcel’s help, and made ready to occupy G. M.’s bed, just as I had taken his place at table. At that very moment our evil genius was working for our undoing. While we were given up to the raptures of love, the sword was suspended above our heads by a single thread which was about to snap. But so that you can fully appreciate all the circumstances of our ruin I must elucidate its cause.

When G. M. was held up by the guardsman he had a lackey following him. This fellow, terrified at the mishap that had befallen his master, ran back the way he had come, and the first move he made to help him was to go and inform old G. M. of what had occurred. Naturally he was most alarmed at such disquieting news. He was extremely active for his age, and this was his only son. First he questioned the lackey about everything his son had done that afternoon – had he quarrelled with anybody, or taken part in somebody else’s quarrel? Had he been in any questionable house? The lackey, believing his master to be in deadly peril, thought that now he ought not to hold anything back that might help to save him, and divulged all he knew about his affair with Manon, the money he had laid out on her, how he had spent the afternoon in the house until about nine o’clock, how he had then gone out, and the trouble he had got into on his return. It was enough to make the old man suspect that the root of the business must be some quarrel over a woman. By then it was at least half past ten, but he did not hesitate to go at once to the police and have special orders issued to all the squads of the watch. He obtained a squad to go with him, and in all haste made for the street where his son had been stopped; then he visited every place in the town where there might be some hope of finding him, but, picking up no trace of him, he finished by having himself taken to the woman’s house, where he thought his son might have returned.

He arrived just as I was getting into bed. Our door was shut and I did not hear the knock at the street door. However, he gained admission, together with two officers, inquired in vain what had happened to his son and took it into his head to see his son’s mistress, in case she might be able to throw some light on the affair. He climbed the stairs, with the two men still at his heels. We were just going to get into bed when he opened the door. The sight of him froze my blood. ‘Oh God!’ I said to Manon, ‘it’s old G. M.!’ I leaped for my sword, but, as ill-luck would have it, it was entangled with my belt. The officers saw my move and at once came up and wrenched it away from me. They quickly had me defenceless. A man is helpless in his shirt.

Flustered as he was, G. M. did not take long to recognize me, and it was still easier for him to recall Manon. ‘Is this an illusion?’ he said pompously. ‘Do I not see the Chevalier des Grieux and Manon Lescaut?’ I was beside myself with shame and vexation, and made no answer. For a short time he seemed to be turning various thoughts over in his mind, and as though they had suddenly kindled his anger he turned to me and shouted: ‘You wretch! You have killed my son. I am sure you have.’ Stung by this insult, I proudly retorted: ‘You old villain, if I had had to kill any of your family I should have begun with you.’ ‘Hold on to him!’ he said to the archers. ‘He has got to give me news of my son. Unless he tells me at once what he has done with him, I shall have him hanged tomorrow.’ ‘You’ll have me hanged, will you?’ I shouted back. ‘You swine, it is people like you who ought to be seen on the gallows. You had better know that my blood is nobler and purer than yours. Yes, I know what has happened to your son, and if you annoy me any more I’ll have him strangled before tomorrow dawns, and I promise you the same fate after him.’

It was rash of me to admit I knew where his son was, but I was so furious that I let this indiscretion escape me. He at once called five or six other officers who were waiting outside the door, and ordered them to make sure of all the servants in the house. ‘Ha! Monsieur le Chevalier,’ he went on in sarcastic tones, ‘you know where my son is and you will have him strangled, will you? Well, you can rest assured that we shall see to that.’ I immediately realized the blunder I had committed. He went up to Manon, who was sitting weeping on the bed, and treated her to a few sardonic gallantries about the sway she held over father and son and the good use she was making of it. The abominable old lecher then made as if to take a few liberties with her. ‘Keep your hands off her!’ I cried, ‘or else there would be nothing sacred enough in the world to stop me laying hands on you.’ He went out, leaving in the room three of the men whom he ordered to see that we put on our things at once.

I do not know what his plans for us were at that stage. If we had told him where his son was we might have gained our freedom. As I was putting on my clothes I wondered whether that was not the wisest policy. But if such was his intention when he left our room he had changed his mind when he returned. He had been and questioned Manon’s servants, whom the officers had arrested. He could not find out anything from the servants his son had engaged for her, but when he knew that Marcel had previously been in our employ, he determined to use intimidation to make him speak.

Marcel was a loyal fellow, but simple and ignorant. The memory of what he had done to free Manon from the Hôpital, together with the terror inspired by G. M., made such an impression on his feeble wits that he imagined he was going to be taken straight to the gallows or the wheel, and promised to reveal everything that had come to his knowledge if only his life were spared. This satisfied G. M. that there was something more serious and criminal in our affairs than he had hitherto supposed, and he offered Marcel not only his life but also a reward for a confession. The poor devil told him the part of our plan which we had not hesitated to discuss in front of him because he was to have had some share in it. It is true that he was quite unaware of the modifications we had made in Paris, but when we left Chaillot he had been told the outline of the scheme and the part he was to play in it. So he told G. M. that our object was to swindle his son and that Manon was to receive, or had already received, ten thousand francs which, we intended, should never revert to the heirs of the house of G. M.

Having found out all this, the old man rushed up to our room in a towering rage, and without a word went through to the inner sanctum, where he had no difficulty in finding the money and the jewels. He came back to us purple in the face and, holding out in front of us what he chose to call our plunder, poured out violent insults. He dangled the pearl necklace and bracelets close to Manon’s face. ‘Do you recognize them?’ he jeered. ‘It was not the first time you had seen them. The very same ones, well I never! They appealed to your taste, my dear, I can see that. Poor children,’ he added, ‘they are really quite nice, both of them, but a bit on the tricky side.’

My heart was bursting with rage at these insulting remarks. For a single minute’s freedom I would have given… Good God, what wouldn’t I have given! However, by dint of a great effort I said with a moderation which was only a refinement of anger: ‘Let us call a halt to these insolent witticisms, Sir. What is it all about? What do you propose to do with us?’ ‘This is what it is all about, Monsieur le Chevalier,’ he answered, ‘it is a question of going straight to the Châtelet. Tomorrow we shall have some daylight and we shall see more clearly into the matter, and I hope that in the end you will do me the kindness of telling me where my son is.’

I did not need to reflect very long in order to understand that once shut up in the Châtelet we should be exposed to terrible consequences. I trembled as I foresaw all the dangers. Notwithstanding all my pride, I realized that I must give way to the force of my destiny and flatter my cruellest enemy in the hope of getting something out of him by submissiveness. In courteous tones I asked him to listen for a moment. ‘I see my faults in their true light, Sir,’ I said, ‘and admit that my youth has led me to commit grave offences, and that you have grounds for complaint after having been so wronged. But if you know the power of love, if you can conceive what a poor young man must be suffering when all he has in the world is being taken away from him, you will perhaps think I might be forgiven for having tried to enjoy some slight revenge, or at least that I have been punished enough by the humiliation I have just been through. There is no need for prison or torture to discover your son’s whereabouts. He is in safe hands. I had no intention of hurting him or offending you. If you will do me the favour of setting us free, I am prepared to name the place where he is spending a peaceful night.’ Far from being touched by my entreaties, the old brute laughed and turned his back on me. He merely let fall a few words to the effect that he knew all about our scheme. As for his son, he callously added that as I had not killed him he would turn up safe and sound. ‘Take them off to the Petit Châtelet,’ he said to the officers, ‘and mind the Chevalier does not give you the slip. He is a wily bird and has already got out of Saint-Lazare.’

He went out, and you can imagine the state he left me in. ‘Oh Heaven!’ I cried, ‘I am ready to bear patiently all the blows that come from you, but that a miserable wretch like that should have the power to tyrannize over me in this way is enough to bring me to the depths of despair.’ The soldiers asked us not to keep them waiting any longer: they had a carriage at the door. I gave Manon my hand to lead her downstairs. ‘Come, my beloved queen,’ I said, ‘come and face all the bitterness of our destiny. Some day it may please Heaven to make us happier.’