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Manon Lescaut by the Abbe Prevost

Part 4 out of 4

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was come to prepare me by religious instruction for the sacred
ceremony; but, after a cold salutation, he announced to me in two
words, that the governor desired I would relinquish all thoughts
of such a thing, for that he had other views for Manon.

"`Other views for Manon!' said I, as I felt my heart sink
within me; `what views then can they be, chaplain?'

"He replied, that I must be, of course, aware that the governor
was absolute master here; that Manon, having been transported
from France to the colony, was entirely at his disposal; that,
hitherto he had not exercised his right, believing that she was a
married woman; but that now, having learned from my own lips that
it was not so, he had resolved to assign her to M. Synnelet, who
was passionately in love with her.

"My indignation overcame my prudence. Irritated as I was, I
desired the chaplain instantly to quit my house, swearing at the
same time that neither governor, Synnelet, nor the whole colony
together, should lay hands upon my wife, or mistress, if they
chose so to call her.

"I immediately told Manon of the distressing message I had just
received. We conjectured that Synnelet had warped his uncle's
mind after my departure, and that it was all the effect of a
premeditated design. They were, questionless, the stronger
party. We found ourselves in New Orleans, as in the midst of the
ocean, separated from the rest of the world by an immense
interval of space. In a country perfectly unknown, a desert, or
inhabited, if not by brutes, at least by savages quite as
ferocious, to what corner could we fly? I was respected in the
town, but I could not hope to excite the people in my favour to
such a degree as to derive assistance from them proportioned to
the impending danger: money was requisite for that purpose, and I
was poor. Besides, the success of a popular commotion was
uncertain; and if we failed in the attempt, our doom would be
inevitably sealed.

"I revolved these thoughts in my mind; I mentioned them in part
to Manon; I found new ones, without waiting for her replies; I
determined upon one course, and then abandoned that to adopt
another; I talked to myself, and answered my own thoughts aloud;
at length I sank into a kind of hysterical stupor that I can
compare to nothing, because nothing ever equalled it. Manon
observed my emotion, and from its violence, judged how imminent
was our danger; and, apprehensive more on my account than on her
own, the dear girl could not even venture to give expression to
her fears.

"After a multitude of reflections, I resolved to call upon the
governor, and appeal to his feelings of honour, to the
recollection of my unvarying respect for him, and the marks he
had given of his own affection for us both. Manon endeavoured to
dissuade me from this attempt: she said, with tears in her eyes,
`You are rushing into the jaws of death; they will murder you--I
shall never again see you--I am determined to die before you.' I
had great difficulty in persuading her that it was absolutely
necessary that I should go, and that she should remain at home.
I promised that she should see me again in a few moments. She
did not foresee, nor did I, that it was against herself the whole
anger of Heaven, and the rabid fury of our enemies, was about to
be concentrated.

"I went to the fort: the governor was there with his chaplain.
I supplicated him in a tone of humble submission that I could
have ill brooked under other circumstances. I invoked his
clemency by every argument calculated to soften any heart less
ferocious and cruel than a tiger's.

"The barbarian made to all my prayers but two short answers,
which he repeated over and over again. `Manon,' he said, `was at
his disposal: and he had given a promise to his nephew.' I was
resolved to command my feelings to the last: I merely replied,
that I had imagined he was too sincerely my friend to desire my
death, to which I would infinitely rather consent than to the
loss of my mistress.

"I felt persuaded, on quitting him, that it was folly to expect
anything from the obstinate tyrant, who would have damned himself
a hundred times over to please his nephew. However, I persevered
in restraining my temper to the end; deeply resolved, if they
persisted in such flagrant injustice, to make America the scene
of one of the most horrible and bloody murders that even love had
ever led to.

"I was, on my return home, meditating upon this design, when
fate, as if impatient to expedite my ruin, threw Synnelet in my
way. He read in my countenance a portion of my thoughts. I
before said, he was brave. He approached me.

"`Are you not seeking me?' he enquired. `I know that my
intentions have given you mortal offence, and that the death of
one of us is indispensable: let us see who is to be the happy

"I replied, that such was unquestionably the fact, and that
nothing but death could end the difference between us.

"We retired about one hundred paces out of the town. We drew: I
wounded and disarmed him at the first onset. He was so enraged,
that he peremptorily refused either to ask his life or renounce
his claims to Manon. I might have been perhaps justified in
ending both by a single blow; but noble blood ever vindicates its
origin. I threw him back his sword. `Let us renew the
struggle,' said I to him, `and remember that there shall be now
no quarter.' He attacked me with redoubled fury. I must confess
that I was not an accomplished swordsman, having had but three
months' tuition in Paris. Love, however, guided my weapon.
Synnelet pierced me through and through the left arm; but I
caught him whilst thus engaged, and made so vigorous a thrust
that I stretched him senseless at my feet.

"In spite of the triumphant feeling that victory, after a mortal
conflict, inspires, I was immediately horrified by the certain
consequences of his death. There could not be the slightest hope
of either pardon or respite from the vengeance I had thus
incurred. Aware, as I was, of the affection of the governor for
his nephew, I felt perfectly sure that my death would not be
delayed a single hour after his should become known. `Urgent as
this apprehension was, it still was by no means the principal
source of my uneasiness. Manon, the welfare of Manon, the peril
that impended over her, and the certainty of my being now at
length separated from her, afflicted me to such a degree, that I
was incapable of recognising the place in which I stood. I
regretted Synnelet's death: instant suicide seemed the only
remedy for my woes.

"However, it was this very thought that quickly restored me to
my reason, and enabled me to form a resolution. `What,' said I
to myself, `die, in order to end my pain! Then there is
something I dread more than the loss of all I love! No, let me
suffer the cruellest extremities in order to aid her; and when
these prove of no avail, fly to death as a last resource!'

"I returned towards the town; on my arrival at home, I found
Manon half dead with fright and anxiety: my presence restored
her. I could not conceal from her the terrible accident that had
happened. On my mentioning the death of Synnelet and my own
wound, she fell in a state of insensibility into my arms. It was
a quarter of an hour before I could bring her again to her

"I was myself in a most deplorable state of mind; I could not
discern the slightest prospect of safety for either of us.
`Manon,' said I to her, when she had recovered a little, `what
shall we do? Alas, what hope remains to us? I must necessarily
fly. Will you remain in the town? Yes dearest Manon, do remain;
you may possibly still be happy here; while I, far away from you,
may seek death and find it amongst the savages, or the wild

"She raised herself in spite of her weakness, and taking hold of
my hand to lead me towards the door: `Let us,' said she, `fly
together, we have not a moment to lose; Synnelet's body may be
found by chance, and we shall then have no time to escape.'
`But, dear Manon,' replied I, `to what place can we fly? Do you
perceive any resource? Would it not be better that you should
endeavour to live on without me; and that I should go and
voluntarily place my life in the governor's hands?'

"This proposal had only the effect of making her more impatient
for our departure. I had presence of mind enough, on going out,
to take with me some strong liquors which I had in my chamber,
and as much food as I could carry in my pockets. We told our
servants, who were in the adjoining room, that we were going to
take our evening walk, as was our invariable habit; and we left
the town behind us more rapidly than I had thought possible from
Manon's delicate state of health.

"Although I had not formed any resolve as to our future
destination, I still cherished a hope, without which I should
have infinitely preferred death to my suspense about Manon's
safety. I had acquired a sufficient knowledge of the country,
during nearly ten months which I had now passed in America, to
know in what manner the natives should be approached. Death was
not the necessary consequence of falling into their hands. I had
learned a few words of their language, and some of their customs,
having had many opportunities of seeing them.

"Besides this sad resource, I derived some hopes from the fact,
that the English had, like ourselves, established colonies in
this part of the New World. But the distance was terrific. In
order to reach them, we should have to traverse deserts of many
days' journey, and more than one range of mountains so steep and
vast as to seem almost impassable to the strongest man. I
nevertheless flattered myself that we might derive partial relief
from one or other of these sources: the savages might serve us as
guides, and the English receive us in their settlements.

"We journeyed on as long as Manon's strength would permit, that
is to say, about six miles; for this incomparable creature, with
her usual absence of selfishness, refused my repeated entreaties
to stop. Overpowered at length by fatigue, she acknowledged the
utter impossibility of proceeding farther. It was already night:
we sat down in the midst of an extensive plain, where we could
not even find a tree to shelter us. Her first care was to dress
my wound, which she had bandaged before our departure. I, in
vain, entreated her to desist from exertion: it would have only
added to her distress if I had refused her the satisfaction of
seeing me at ease and out of danger, before her own wants were
attended to. I allowed her therefore to gratify herself, and in
shame and silence submitted to her delicate attentions.

"But when she had completed her tender task, with what ardour
did I not enter upon mine! I took off my clothes and stretched
them under her, to render more endurable the hard and rugged
ground on which she lay. I protected her delicate hands from the
cold by my burning kisses and the warmth of my sighs. I passed
the livelong night in watching over her as she slept, and praying
Heaven to refresh her with soft and undisturbed repose. `You can
bear witness, just and all-seeing God I to the fervour and
sincerity of those prayers, and Thou alone knowest with what
awful rigour they were rejected.'

"You will excuse me, if I now cut short a story which it
distresses me beyond endurance to relate. It is, I believe, a
calamity without parallel. I can never cease to deplore it. But
although it continues, of course, deeply and indelibly impressed
on my memory, yet my heart seems to shrink within me each time
that I attempt the recital.

"We had thus tranquilly passed the night. I had fondly imagined
that my beloved mistress was in a profound sleep, and I hardly
dared to breathe lest I should disturb her. As day broke, I
observed that her hands were cold and trembling; I pressed them
to my bosom in the hope of restoring animation. This movement
roused her attention, and making an effort to grasp my hand, she
said, in a feeble voice, that she thought her last moments had

"I, at first, took this for a passing weakness, or the ordinary
language of distress; and I answered with the usual consolations
that love prompted. But her incessant sighs, her silence, and
inattention to my enquiries, the convulsed grasp of her hands, in
which she retained mine, soon convinced me that the crowning end
of all my miseries was approaching.

"Do not now expect me to attempt a description of my feelings,
or to repeat her dying expressions. I lost her--I received the
purest assurances of her love even at the very instant that her
spirit fled. I have not nerve to say more upon this fatal and
disastrous event.

"My spirit was not destined to accompany Manon's. Doubtless,
Heaven did not as yet consider me sufficiently punished, and
therefore ordained that I should continue to drag on a languid
and joyless existence. I willingly renounced every hope of
leading a happy one.

"I remained for twenty-four hours without taking my lips from
the still beauteous countenance and hands of my adored Manon. My
intention was to await my own death in that position; but at the
beginning of the second day, I reflected that, after I was gone,
she must of necessity become the prey of wild beasts. I then
determined to bury her, and wait my own doom upon her grave. I
was already, indeed, so near my end from the combined effect of
long fasting and grief, that it was with the greatest difficulty
I could support myself standing. I was obliged to have recourse
to the liquors which I had brought with me, and these restored
sufficient strength to enable me to set about my last sad office.
From the sandy nature of the soil there was little trouble in
opening the ground. I broke my sword and used it for the
purpose; but my bare hands were of greater service. I dug a deep
grave, and there deposited the idol of my heart, after having
wrapt around her my clothes to prevent the sand from touching
her. I kissed her ten thousand times with all the ardour of the
most glowing love, before I laid her in this melancholy bed. I
sat for some time upon the bank intently gazing on her, and could
not command fortitude enough to close the grave over her. At
length, feeling that my strength was giving way, and apprehensive
of its being entirely exhausted before the completion of my task,
I committed to the earth all that it had ever contained most
perfect and peerless. I then lay myself with my face down upon
the grave, and closing my eyes with the determination never again
to open them, I invoked the mercy of Heaven, and ardently prayed
for death.

"You will find it difficult to believe that, during the whole
time of this protracted and distressing ceremony, not a tear or a
sigh escaped to relieve my agony. The state of profound
affliction in which I was, and the deep settled resolution I had
taken to die, had silenced the sighs of despair, and effectually
dried up the ordinary channels of grief. It was thus impossible
for me, in this posture upon the grave, to continue for any time
in possession of my faculties.

"After what you have listened to, the remainder of my own
history would ill repay the attention you seem inclined to bestow
upon it. Synnelet having been carried into the town and
skilfully examined, it was found that, so far from being dead, he
was not even dangerously wounded. He informed his uncle of the
manner in which the affray had occurred between us, and he
generously did justice to my conduct on the occasion. I was sent
for; and as neither of us could be found, our flight was
immediately suspected. It was then too late to attempt to trace
me, but the next day and the following one were employed in the

"I was found, without any appearance of life, upon the grave of
Manon: and the persons who discovered me in this situation,
seeing that I was almost naked and bleeding from my wounds,
naturally supposed that I had been robbed and assassinated. They
carried me into the town. The motion restored me to my senses.
The sighs I heaved on opening my eyes and finding myself still
amongst the living, showed that I was not beyond the reach of
art: they were but too successful in its application.

"I was immediately confined as a close prisoner. My trial was
ordered; and as Manon was not forthcoming, I was accused of
having murdered her from rage and jealousy. I naturally related
all that had occurred. Synnelet, though bitterly grieved and
disappointed by what he heard, had the generosity to solicit my
pardon: he obtained it.

"I was so reduced, that they were obliged to carry me from the
prison to my bed, and there I suffered for three long months
under severe illness. My aversion from life knew no diminution.
I continually prayed for death, and obstinately for some time
refused every remedy. But Providence, after having punished me
with atoning rigour, saw fit to turn to my own use its
chastisements and the memory of my multiplied sorrows. It at
length deigned to shed upon me its redeeming light, and revived
in my mind ideas worthy of my birth and my early education.

"My tranquillity of mind being again restored, my cure speedily
followed. I began only to feel the highest aspirations of
honour, and diligently performed the duties of my appointment,
whilst expecting the arrival of the vessels from France, which
were always due at this period of the year. I resolved to return
to my native country, there to expiate the scandal of my former
life by my future good conduct. Synnelet had the remains of my
dear mistress removed into a more hallowed spot.

"It was six weeks after my recovery that, one day walking alone
upon the banks of the river, I saw a vessel arrive, which some
mercantile speculation had directed to New Orleans. I stood by
whilst the passengers landed. Judge my surprise on recognising
Tiberge amongst those who proceeded towards the town. This
ever-faithful friend knew me at a distance, in spite of the
ravages which care and sorrow had worked upon my countenance. He
told me that the sole object of his voyage had been to see me
once more, and to induce me to return with him to France; that on
receipt of the last letter which I had written to him from Havre,
he started for that place, and was himself the bearer of the
succour which I solicited; that he had been sensibly affected on
learning my departure, and that he would have instantly followed
me, if there had been a vessel bound for the same destination;
that he had been for several months endeavouring to hear of one
in the various seaport towns, and that, having at length found
one at St. Malo which was weighing anchor for Martinique, he
embarked, in the expectation of easily passing from thence to New
Orleans; that the St. Malo vessel having been captured by Spanish
pirates and taken to one of their islands, he had contrived to
escape; and that, in short, after many adventures, he had got on
board the vessel which had just arrived, and at length happily
attained his object.

"I was totally unable adequately to express my feelings of
gratitude to this generous and unshaken friend. I conducted him
to my house, and placed all I possessed at his service. I
related to him every circumstance that had occurred to me since I
left France: and in order to gladden him with tidings which I
knew he did not expect, I assured him that the seeds of virtue
which he had in former days implanted in my heart, were now about
to produce fruit, of which even he should be proud. He declared
to me, that this gladdening announcement more than repaid him for
all the fatigue and trouble he had endured.

"We passed two months together at New Orleans whilst waiting the
departure of a vessel direct to France; and having at length
sailed, we landed only a fortnight since at Havre-de-Grace. On
my arrival I wrote to my family. By a letter from my elder
brother, I there learned my father's death, which, I dread to
think, the disorders of my youth might have hastened. The wind
being favourable for Calais, I embarked for this port, and am now
going to the house of one of my relations who lives a few miles off,
where my brother said that he should anxiously await my arrival."

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