Dangerous Liaisons —101—


“POWERS OF HEAVEN! I had a soul for sorrow, grant me one now for felicity.”hg It is the tender Saint-Preux, I think, who thus expresses himself. Better balanced than he, I possess these two existences at once. Yes, my friend, I am at the same time most happy and most miserable; and since you have my entire confidence, I owe you the double relation of my pleasures and my pains.

Know then that my ungrateful Puritan treats me ever with the same rigor. I am at the fourth letter which has been returned. Perhaps I am wrong to call it the fourth; for, having excellently well divined, on the return of the first, that it would be followed by many others, and being unwilling thus to waste my time, I adopted the course of turning my complaints into commonplaces, and putting no date: and, since the second post, it is always the same letter which comes and goes; I merely change the envelope. If my fair one ends as ordinarily end the fair, and softens, if only from lassitude, she will keep the missive at last; and it will be time enough then to pick up the threads. You see that, with this new manner of correspondence, I cannot be perfectly well informed.

I have discovered, however, that the fickle creature has changed her confidant: at least, I have made sure that, since her departure from the château, no letter has come from her for Madame de Volanges, while there have been two for the old Rosemonde; and, as the latter says nothing to us of them, as she no longer opens her mouth on the subject of her dearest fair, of whom previously she never ceased to speak, I concluded that it was she who had her confidence. I presume that, on one side, the need of speaking of me and, on the other, a little shame at returning with Madame de Volanges to the subject of a sentiment so long disavowed have caused this great revolution. I fear that I have lost by the change: for, the older women grow, the more crabbed and severe do they become. The first would have told her far more ill of me: but the latter will say more of love; and the sensitive prude has far more fear of the sentiment than of the person.

The only means of getting at the facts, is, as you see, to intercept the clandestine correspondence. I have already sent the order to my chasseur; and I am daily awaiting its execution. So far, I can do nothing except at random: thus, for the last week, I run my mind in vain over all recognized means, all those in the novels and in my private recollections; I can find none which befits either the circumstances of the adventure or the character of the heroine. The difficulty would not be to present myself before her, even in the night, nor again to induce her slumber, and make of her a new Clarissa: but, after more than two months of care and trouble, to have recourse to means which are foreign to me! To follow slavishly in the track of others, and triumph without glory! … No, she shall not have the pleasures of vice and the honors of virtue. hh ’Tis not enough for me to possess her, I wish her to give herself. Now, for that, I need not only to penetrate to her presence, but to reach her by her own consent; to find her alone and with the intention of listening to me; above all, to close her eyes as to the danger; for if she sees it, she will know how to surmount it or to die. But the more clearly I see what I need to do, the more difficult do I find its execution ; and though it should induce you to laugh at me once more, I will confess that my embarrassment is enhanced in proportion to the extent to which it occupies me.

My brain would reel, I think, were it not for the lucky distraction which our common pupil affords me; I owe it to her that I have still something else to do than compose elegies. Would you believe that this little girl had taken such fright that three whole days passed before your letter produced its effect? ’Tis thus that one false idea can spoil the most fortunate nature! In short, it was not until Saturday that she came and hovered round me, and stammered out a few words, and those pronounced in so low a voice, so stifled with shame, that it was impossible to hear them. But the blush which accompanied them made me guess their sense. Thus far, I had retained my pride: but, subdued by so pleasant a repentance, I consented to promise a visit to the fair penitent that same evening; and this grace on my part was received with all the gratitude that so great a condescension demanded.

As I never lose sight either of your projects or my own, I resolved to profit by this occasion to gain a just estimate of the child’s value, and also to accelerate her education. But to pursue this work with greater freedom, I found it necessary to change the place of our rendezvous ; for a simple closet, which separates your pupil’s room from that of her mother, could not inspire sufficient security to allow her to reveal herself at her ease. I promised myself then innocently to make some noise, which would cause her enough alarm to induce her, for the future, to seek a safer asylum; this trouble she spared me again.

The little person loves laughter; and to promote her gaiety, I bethought myself, during our entr’actes,hito relate to her all the scandalous anecdotes which occurred to my mind; and, so as to render them more piquant and better to fix her attention, I attributed them all to her mother, whom I was thus pleased to bedaub with vice and ridicule. It was not without motive that I made this choice; it encouraged my timid schoolgirl better than anything else, and I inspired her, at the same time, with the most profound contempt for her mother. I have long remarked that, if it be not always necessary to employ this means to seduce a young girl, it is indispensable, and often even the most efficacious, when one wishes to deprave her; for she who does not respect her mother will not respect herself: a moral truth which I hold to be so useful that I have been glad indeed to have furnished an example in support of the precept.

Meanwhile, your pupil, who had no thought of morals, was stifling her laughter every moment; finally, she had almost thought to have burst out with it. I had no difficulty in persuading her that she had made a terrible noise. I feigned a huge fright, which she easily shared. That she might the better remember it, I did not allow pleasure to reappear, and left her alone, three hours earlier than was customary; we agreed, therefore, on separating, that, from the morrow, it was in my room that we should meet.

I have already twice received her there; and in this short period the scholar has become almost as learned as the master. Yes, in truth, I have taught her everything, even to complaisances!hj I have only made an exception of precautions.

Occupied thus all night, I gain thereby in that I sleep a great portion of the day; and as the actual society of the château has nothing to attract me, I hardly appear in the salon for an hour during the day. Today, I even adopted the course of eating in my room, and I do not intend to leave it again, except for short walks. These eccentricities pass on the ground of my health. I have declared that I am worn out with vapors;hk I have also announced a little fever. It cost me no more than to speak in a slow and faint voice. As for the alteration in my face, trust your pupil for that. “Love will provide.”hl

I employ my leisure in meditating means of recovering over my ingrate the advantages I have lost; and also in composing a sort of catechism of debauch for the use of my scholar. I amuse myself by mentioning nothing except by its technical name; and I laugh in advance at the interesting conversation which this ought to furnish between Gercourt and herself on the first night of their marriage. Nothing could be more amusing than the ingenuity with which she makes use already of the little she knows of this tongue! She has no conception that one can speak differently. This child is really seductive ! The contrast of naive candor with the language of effrontery does not fail to have an effect; and, I know not why, but it is only bizarre things which give me any longer pleasure.

Perhaps, I am abandoning myself overmuch to this, since I am compromising by it both my time and my health: but I hope that my feigned malady, besides that it will save me from the ennui of the drawing room, will, perhaps, be of some use to me with the rigid Puritan, whose ferocious virtue is nonetheless allied with soft sensibility. I doubt not but that she is already informed of this mighty event, and I have a great desire to know what she thinks of it; all the more so in that I will wager she does not fail to attribute the honor of it to herself. I shall regulate the state of my health according to the impression which it makes upon her.

Here you are, my fair friend, as fully acquainted with my affairs as I am myself. I hope to have, shortly, more interesting news to tell you; and I beg you to believe that, in the pleasure which I promise myself, I count for much the reward which I expect from you.