Dangerous Liaisons —102—


You WILL BE GREATLY astonished, Madame, to learn that I am leaving you so precipitately. This proceeding will appear to you very extraordinary: but your surprise will be redoubled, when you learn my reasons for it! Perhaps, you will find that, in confiding them to you, I do not sufficiently respect the tranquillity necessary to your age; that I even infringe the sentiments of veneration which are your due by so many titles? Ah! Madame, forgive me: but my heart is oppressed; it feels a need to pour out its griefs upon the bosom of a friend who is as kind as she is prudent: whom else, save you, could it choose? Look upon me as your child. Show me the kindness of a mother; I implore it. Perhaps my sentiments toward yourself give me some right to expect it.

Where has the time gone when, absorbed entirely in those laudable sentiments, I was ignorant of those which, afflicting my soul with the mortal sorrow I feel, deprive me of the strength to combat them at the same time that they impose upon me the duty? Ah, this fatal visit has been my ruin! … What shall I say to you, in fine? I love, yes, I love to distraction. Alas! that word which I write for the first time, that word so often entreated without being ever obtained, I would pay with my life the sweet privilege of letting him who has inspired it hear it but a single time; and yet I must unceasingly withhold it. He will continue to doubt my feelings toward him; he will think he has cause to complain of them. I am indeed unhappy! Why is it not as easy for him to read in my heart as to reign there? Yes, I should suffer less, if he knew all that I suffer; but you yourself, to whom I say it, will still have but a feeble idea of it.

In a few moments, I am about to fly from him and cause him grief. While he will still believe he is near me, I shall already be far away; at the hour when I was accustomed to see him daily, I shall be where he has never been, where I must not permit him to come. Already, all my preparations are complete, all is there beneath my eyes; I can let them rest on nothing which does not speak of this cruel separation. Everything is ready except myself… !

And the more my heart resists, the more does it prove to me the necessity of submission to it. Doubtless, I shall submit to it; it is better to die than to lead a life of guilt. I feel it already, I know it but too well; I have only saved my prudence, my virtue is gone. Must I confess it to you—what yet remains to me I owe to his generosity. Intoxicated with the pleasure of seeing him, of hearing him; with the sweetness of feeling him near me; with the still greater happiness of being able to make his own, I was powerless and without strength; hardly enough was left me to struggle: I had no longer enough to resist; I trembled at my danger, but could not flee it. Well! he saw my trouble and had pity on me. Could I do aught else than cherish him? I owe him far more than life.

Ah, if, by remaining near him, I had but to tremble for that, do not suppose I had ever consented to go away! What is life to me without him? Should I not be too happy to lose it? Condemned to be the cause of his eternal misery and my own; to dare neither to pity myself nor console him; to defend myself daily against him, and against myself; to devote my cares to causing him pain, when I would consecrate them all to his happiness; to live thus, is it not to die a thousand times? Yet that is what my fate must be. I will endure it, however; I will have the courage. O you, whom I chose for my mother, receive this vow.

Receive also that which I make, to hide from you none of my actions : receive it, I beseech you; I beg it of you as a succor of which I have need: thus, pledged to tell you all, I shall acquire the habit of believing myself always in your presence. Your virtue shall replace my own. Never, doubtless, shall I consent to come before you with a blush; and, restrained by this powerful check, while I shall cherish in you the indulgent friend, the confidant of my weakness, I shall also honor in you the guardian angel who will save me from shame.

Shame enough must I feel, in having to make you this request. Fatal effect of presumptuous confidence! Why did I not dread sooner this inclination which I felt springing up? Why did I flatter myself that I could master it or overcome it at my will? Insensate! How little I knew what love was! Ah, if I had fought against it with more care, perhaps it would have acquired less dominion; perhaps then this separation would not have been necessary; or, even if I had submitted to that sorrowful step, I need not have broken off entirely a relation which it would have been sufficient to render less frequent! But to lose all at one stroke, and forever! 0 my friend! … But what is this? Even in writing to you, shall I be led away to vent criminal wishes? Ah! away, away! and at least let these involuntary errors be expiated by my sacrifices.

Adieu, my venerable friend; love me as your daughter, adopt me for such; and be sure that, in spite of my weakness, I would rather die than render myself unworthy of your choice.