Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library
  PREVIOUSNEXT  

CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · QUICK INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHIES
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · PORTRAITS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Exile and Death
By Antoine-François, Abbé Prévost d’Exiles (1697–1763)
 
From ‘Manon Lescaut’

AFTER a passage of two months we at length reached the banks of the desired river. The country offered at first sight nothing agreeable. We saw only sterile and uninhabited plains covered with rushes, and some trees rooted up by the wind: no trace either of men or animals. However, the captain having discharged some pieces of artillery, we presently observed a group of the inhabitants of New Orleans, who approached us with evident signs of joy. We had not perceived the town: it is concealed upon the side on which we approached it by a hill. We were received as persons dropt from the clouds.  1
  The poor inhabitants hastened to put a thousand questions to us upon the state of France, and of the different provinces in which they were born. They embraced us as brothers, and as beloved companions, who had come to share their pains and their solitude. We turned towards the town with them; but we were astonished to perceive, as we advanced, that what we had hitherto heard spoken of as a respectable town was nothing more than a collection of miserable huts. They were inhabited by five or six hundred persons. The governor’s house was a little distinguished from the rest by its height and its position. It was surrounded by some earthen ramparts and a deep ditch.  2
  We were first presented to him. He continued for some time in conversation with the captain; and then advancing towards us, he looked attentively at the women one after another; there were thirty of them, for another troop of convicts had joined us at Havre. After having thus inspected them, he sent for several young men of the colony who were desirous to marry. He assigned the handsomest women to the principal of these, and the remainder were disposed of by lot. He had not yet addressed Manon; but having ordered the others to depart, he made us remain. “I learn from the captain,” said he, “that you are married; and he is convinced by your conduct on the passage that you are both persons of merit and of education. I have nothing to do with, the cause of your misfortunes; but if it be true that you are as conversant with the world and society as your appearance would indicate, I shall spare no pains to soften the severity of your lot, and you may on your part contribute towards rendering this savage and desert abode less disagreeable to me.”  3
  I replied in a manner which I thought best calculated to confirm the opinion he had formed of us. He gave orders to have a habitation prepared for us in the town, and detained us to supper. I was really surprised to find so much politeness in a governor of transported convicts. In the presence of others he abstained from inquiring about our past adventures. The conversation was general; and in spite of our degradation, Manon and I exerted ourselves to make it lively and agreeable.  4
  At night we were conducted to the lodging prepared for us. We found a wretched hovel composed of planks and mud, containing three rooms on the ground, and a loft overhead. He had sent there six chairs, and some few necessaries of life.  5
  Manon appeared frightened by the first view of this melancholy dwelling. It was on my account, much more than upon her own, that she distressed herself. When we were left to ourselves, she sat down and wept bitterly. I attempted at first to console her; but when she enabled me to understand that it was for my sake she deplored our privations, and that in our common afflictions she only considered me as the sufferer, I put on an air of resolution, and even of content, sufficient to encourage her.  6
  “What is there in my lot to lament?” said I: “I possess all that I have ever desired. You love me, Manon, do you not? What happiness beyond this have I ever longed for? Let us leave to Providence the direction of our destiny; it by no means appears to me so desperate. The governor is civil and obliging; he has already given us marks of his consideration; he will not allow us to want for necessaries. As to our rude hut and the squalidness of our furniture, you might have noticed that there are few persons in the colony better lodged or more comfortably furnished than we are: and then you are an admirable chemist,” added I, embracing her; “you transform everything into gold.”  7
  “In that case,” she answered, “you shall be the richest man in the universe; for as there never was love surpassing yours, so it is impossible for man to be loved more tenderly than you are by me. I well know,” she continued, “that I have never merited the almost incredible fidelity and attachment which you have shown for me. I have often caused you annoyances which nothing but excessive fondness could have induced you to pardon. I have been thoughtless and volatile; and even while loving you, as I have always done to distraction, I was never free from a consciousness of ingratitude. But you cannot believe how much my nature is altered; those tears which you have so frequently seen me shed since quitting the French shore have not been caused by my own misfortunes. Since you began to share them with me, I have been a stranger to selfishness: I only wept from tenderness and compassion for you. I am inconsolable at the thought of having given you one instant’s pain during my past life. I never cease upbraiding myself with my former inconstancy, and wondering at the sacrifices which love has induced you to make for a miserable and unworthy wretch, who could not, with the last drop of her blood, compensate for half the torments she has caused you.”  8
  Her grief, the language and the tone in which she expressed herself, made such an impression that I felt my heart ready to break within me. “Take care,” said I to her, “take care, dear Manon: I have not strength to endure such exciting marks of your affection; I am little accustomed to the rapturous sensations which you now kindle in my heart. O Heaven!” cried I, “I have now nothing further to ask of you. I am sure of Manon’s love. That has been alone wanting to complete my happiness; I can now never cease to be happy: my felicity is well secured.”  9
  “It is indeed,” she replied, “if it depends upon me; and I well know where I can be ever certain of finding my own happiness centred.”  10
  With these ideas, capable of turning my hut into a palace worthy of earth’s proudest monarch, I lay down to rest. America appeared to my view the true land of milk and honey, the abode of contentment and delight. “People should come to New Orleans,” I often said to Manon, “who wish to enjoy the real rapture of love! It is here that love is divested of all selfishness, all jealousy, all inconstancy. Our countrymen come here in search of gold; they little think that we have discovered treasures of inestimably greater value.”  11
  We carefully cultivated the governor’s friendship. He bestowed upon me, a few weeks after our arrival, a small appointment which became vacant in the fort. Although not one of any distinction, I gratefully accepted it as a gift of Providence, as it enabled me to live independently of others’ aid. I took a servant for myself, and a woman for Manon. Our little establishment became settled: nothing could surpass the regularity of my conduct, or that of Manon; we lost no opportunity of serving or doing an act of kindness to our neighbors. This friendly disposition, and the mildness of our manners, secured us the confidence and affection of the whole colony. We soon became so respected that we ranked as the principal persons in the town after the governor.  12
  The simplicity of our habits and occupations, and the perfect innocence in which we lived, revived insensibly our early feelings of devotion. Manon had never been an irreligious girl, and I was far from being one of those reckless libertines who delight in adding impiety and sacrilege to moral depravity: all the disorders of our lives might be fairly ascribed to the natural influences of youth and love. Experience had now begun with us to do the office of age; it produced the same effect upon us as years must have done. Our conversation, which was generally of a serious turn, by degrees engendered a longing for virtuous love. I first proposed this change to Manon. I knew the principles of her heart; she was frank and natural in all her sentiments, qualities which invariably predisposed to virtue. I said to her that there was but one thing wanting to complete our happiness: “It is,” said I, “to invoke upon our union the benediction of Heaven. We have both of us hearts too sensitive, and minds too refined, to continue voluntarily in the willful violation of so sacred a duty.”…  13
  I waited upon the governor, as I had settled with Manon, to procure his consent to the ceremony of our marriage. I should have avoided speaking to him or to any other person upon the subject, if I had imagined that his chaplain, who was the only minister in the town, would have performed the office for me without his knowledge; but not daring to hope that he would do so privately, I determined to act ingenuously in the matter.  14
  The governor had a nephew named Synnelet, of whom he was particularly fond. He was about thirty; brave, but of a headstrong and violent disposition. He was not married. Manon’s beauty had struck him on the first day of our arrival; and the numberless opportunities he had of seeing her during the last nine or ten months had so inflamed his passion that he was absolutely pining for her in secret. However, as he was convinced, in common with his uncle and the whole colony, that I was married, he put such a restraint upon his feelings that they remained generally unnoticed; and he lost no opportunity of showing the most disinterested friendship for me.  15
  He happened to be with his uncle when I arrived at the government house. I had no reason for keeping my intention a secret from him, so that I explained myself without hesitation in his presence. The governor heard me with his usual kindness. I related to him a part of my history, to which he listened with evident interest; and when I requested his presence at the intended ceremony, he was so generous as to say that he must be permitted to defray the expenses of the succeeding entertainment. I retired perfectly satisfied.  16
  In an hour after, the chaplain paid me a visit. I thought he 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.  17
  “Other views for Manon!” said I, as I felt my heart sink within me: “what views then can they be, chaplain?”  18
  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.  19
  My indignation overcame my prudence. I was so irritated that I ordered 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.  20
  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 unquestionably 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 favor 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.  21
  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 sunk into a kind of hysterical stupor that I can compare to nothing, because nothing ever equaled 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.  22
  After a multitude of reflections, I resolved to call upon the governor, and appeal to his feelings of honor, to the recollection of my unvarying respect for him, and the marks he had given of his own affection for us both. Manon endeavored 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 that the whole anger of Heaven, and the rabid fury of our enemies, was about to be concentrated.  23
  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.  24
  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.  25
  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.  26
  I was meditating upon this design on my return home, 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.  27
  “Are you not seeking me?” he inquired. “I know that my intentions have given you mortal offense, and that the death of one of us is indispensable: let us see who is to be the happy man.”  28
  I replied that such was unquestionably the fact; and that nothing but death could end the difference between us.  29
  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 at 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.  30
  In spite of the triumphant feeling that victory, after a mortal conflict, inspires, I was immediately horrified by the certain consequences of this death. There could not be the slightest hope of either pardon or respite from the vengeance I had thus incurred. I was so well aware of the affection of the governor for his nephew that I felt perfectly sure 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 recognizing the place in which I stood. I regretted Synnelet’s death; instant suicide seemed the only remedy for my woes.  31
  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 crudest extremities in order to aid her; and when these prove of no avail, fly to death as a last resource!”  32
  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 senses.  33
  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 beasts.”  34
  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.”  35
  “But, dear Manon,” replied I, “to what place can we fly? Do you perceive any resource? Would it not be better that you should endeavor to live on without me, and that I should go and voluntarily place my life in the governor’s hands?”  36
  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.  37
  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.  38
  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.  39
  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 further. 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.  40
  But when she had completed her tender task, with what ardor 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. Thou canst bear witness, just and all-seeing God! to the fervor and sincerity of those prayers, and thou alone knowest with what awful rigor they were rejected!  41
  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.  42
  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 arrived.  43
  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 inquiries, the convulsive grasp of her hands in which she retained mine, soon convinced me that the crowning end of all my miseries was approaching.  44
  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.  45
  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.  46
  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 wrapped around her my clothes to prevent the sand from touching her. I kissed her ten thousand times with all the ardor 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 laid 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.  47
  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.  48
  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 skillfully 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 pursuit.  49
  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.  50
  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.  51
  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 rigor, saw fit to turn to my own use its chastisements and the memory of my multiplied sorrows.  52
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.