Dangerous Liaisons —105—


WELL, WELL, LITTLE ONE! So here you are quite vexed, quite ashamed. And that M. de Valmont is a wicked man, is he not? How now! He dares to treat you as the woman he would love the best! He teaches you what you are dying with desire to know! In truth, these proceedings are unpardonable. And you, on your side, you wished to keep your virtue for your lover (who does not abuse it): you cherish only the pains of love and not its pleasures! Nothing could be better, and you will figure marvelous well in a romance. Passion, misfortune, above all, virtue: what a heap of fine things! In the midst of this brilliant pageant, one feels ennui sometimes, it is true, but one pays it back.

See the poor child, then, how much she is to be pitied! Her eyes looked worn, the day after? What will you say, pray, when it is your lover’s that look thus? Nay, my sweet angel, you will not always have them so; all men are not Valmonts. And then, not to dare to raise those eyes! Oh, in truth, you were right there; everybody would have read in them your adventure. Believe me, however, if it were so, our women and even our damsels would have a far more modest gaze.

In spite of the praise I am forced to give you, as you see, I must, however, admit that you failed in your chef-d’oeuvre;gt which was to have told everything to your Mamma. You had started so well! You had, already, thrown yourself into her arms, you sobbed, she also wept: what a pathetic scene! And what a pity not to have completed it! Your tender mother, quite ravished with delight, and to assist your virtue, would have shut you up in a convent for the rest of your life; and there you could have loved Danceny as much as you wished, without rivals and without sin: you could have broken your heart at your ease; and Valmont, assuredly, would not have come to trouble your grief with vexatious pleasures.

Seriously, at past fifteen can one be so utterly a child as you are? You are right, indeed, to say that you do not deserve my kindness. Yet I would be your friend: you have need of one, perhaps, with the mother you possess and the husband whom she would give you! But if you do not form yourself more, what would you have one do with you? What can one hope for, when that which generally excites intelligence in girls seems, on the contrary, to deprive you of it?

If you could bring yourself to reason for a moment, you would soon find that you ought to congratulate yourself, instead of complaining. But you are shamefaced, and that disturbs you! Well, calm yourself; the shame caused by love is like its pain; it is only experienced once. Indeed one can feign it afterward, but one no longer feels it. The pleasure, however, remains, and that is surely something. I think even that I gathered the fact, from your little chattering letter, that you were inclined to count it for much. Come now, a little honesty. That trouble which prevented you from acting as you spoke, which made you find it so difficult to resist, which made you feel as though you were sorry when Valmont went away, was it really shame which caused it, or was it pleasure? and his way of saying things to which one does not know how to answer, may that not have arisen from his way of acting? Ah, little girl, you are fibbing, and you are fibbing to your friend. That is not right. But let us leave that.

What would be a pleasure to anybody, and could be nothing else, becomes in your position a veritable happiness. In fact, placed as you are between a mother whose love is necessary to you, and a lover by whom you desire to be loved always, do you not see that the only means of obtaining these opposite ends is to occupy yourself with a third party? Distracted by this new adventure, while, in your Mamma’s eyes, you will have the air of sacrificing to your submission an inclination which displeases her, in the eyes of your lover you will acquire the honor of a fine defense. While assuring him incessantly of your love, you will not grant him the last proofs of it. Such refusals, so little painful to you in the case in which you will be, he will not fail to attribute to your virtue; he will complain of them, perhaps, but he will love you more for them; and to obtain the double merit of having sacrificed love in the eyes of one, of resisting it in those of the other, will cost you nothing more than to taste its pleasures. Oh, how many women have lost their reputation, which they would have carefully preserved, had they been able to retain it by similar means!

Does not the course which I propose to you seem to you the most reasonable, as it is the most pleasant? Do you know what you have gained from that which you have adopted? Only that your Mamma has attributed your increased melancholy to an increase of love, that she is incensed at it, and that, to punish you, she only waits for additional proof. She has just written to me; she will make every attempt to extract the admission from you. She will go so far, she told me, as to propose Danceny to you, as a husband, and that, in order to induce you to speak. And if, letting yourself be beguiled by this deceitful tenderness, you answered as your heart bade you, soon, confined for a long time, perhaps forever, you would weep for your blind credulity at your leisure.

This ruse which she wishes to employ against you you must combat with another. Begin then, by seeming less melancholy, to lead her to believe that you think less of Danceny. She will allow herself to be the more easily persuaded in that this is the ordinary effect of absence; and she will be the better disposed to you for it, since she will find in it an opportunity for applauding her own prudence which suggested this means to her. But if, some doubt still remaining, she were, nevertheless, to persist in provinggu you, and were to speak to you of marriage, fall back, as a well-bred daughter, upon perfect submission. As a matter of fact, what do you risk? As far as husbands are concerned, one is worth no more than another; and the most uncompromising is always less troublesome than a mother.

Once more satisfied with you, your mother will at last marry you; and then, less hampered in your movements, you will be able, at your choice, to quit Valmont and take Danceny, or even to keep them both. For, mark this, your Danceny is charming; but he is one of those men whom one has when one wills and as long as one wills: one can be at one’s ease, then, with him. It is not the same with Valmont: it is difficult to keep him, and dangerous to leave him. One must employ with him much tact, or, if one has not that, much docility. On the other hand, if you could succeed in attaching him to you as a friend, what a piece of fortune that would be! He would set you, at once, in the first rank of our women of fashion. It is in this way that one acquires consideration in the world, and not by dint of tears and blushes, as when your nuns made you take your dinner on your knees.

If you are wise then, you will endeavor to be reconciled with Valmont, who must be mighty wrothgv with you; and, as one should know how to repair one’s follies, do not fear to make a few advances to him; besides, you will soon learn that, if men make us the first, we are almost always obliged to make the second. You have a pretext for them: for you must not keep this letter; and I require you to hand it to Valmont as soon as you have read it. Do not forget, however, to seal it beforehand. First, in order to secure for yourself the merit of the step you are taking with regard to him, and to prevent your having the air of being advised to it; and, secondly, because there is no one in the world, save yourself, of whom I am sufficiently the friend to speak to as I do to you.

Adieu, sweet angel; follow my advice, and you shall tell me if you feel the better for it.

P.S. By the way, I was forgetting … one word more. Look to it that you cultivate your style more. You write always like a child. I quite see whence it arises; it is because you say all that you think, and no whit of what you do not think. That may pass between you and me, who have nothing to hide from one another: but with everybody! With your lover above all! You would always have the air of a little fool. You must remember that, when you write to anyone,it is for him and not for yourself: you must, therefore, think less of telling him what you think than what will give him most pleasure.

Adieu, sweetheart: I kiss you instead of scolding you, in the hope that you will become more reasonable.