Dangerous Liaisons —106—


AMAZING, VICOMTE, AND THIS time I love you furiously! For the rest, after the first of your two letters, I could expect the second: thus it did not astonish me; and while, proud already of your success to come, you were soliciting its reward, and asking me if I were ready, I saw clearly that I had no such need for haste. Yes, upon my honor; reading the beautiful account of that tender scene, which had moved you so deeply, observing your restraint, worthy of the fairest days of our chivalry, I said to myself a score of times: The affair has failed!

But that is because it could not befall otherwise. What do you expect a poor woman to do who surrenders, and is not taken? My faith, in such a case one must at least save one’s honor; and that is what your Présidente does. I know well that, for myself, who can perceive that the step she has taken is really not without some effect, I propose to make use of it myself on the first rather serious occasion which presents itself: but I promise you that, if he for whom I go to that trouble profits no better than you from it, he may assuredly renounce me for ever.

Here you are then, reduced, brought to impotence! And that between two women, one of whom had already crossed the Rubicon,4 and the other was asking nothing better than to do so. Well, well, you will think that I am boasting, and say that it is easy to prophesy after the event; but I can swear to you that I expected as much. It is because you have not really the genius of your estate;gw you know nothing except what you have learned, and you invent nothing. Thus, as soon as circumstances no longer lend themselves to your accustomed formulas, and you are compelled to leave the beaten road, you pull up short like a schoolboy. In short, a piece of childishness on the one side, a return of prudery on the other, are enough to disconcert you, because you do not meet with them every day; and you know not how either to prevent or remedy them. Ah, Vicomte, Vicomte, you teach me not to judge men by their successes; and soon we shall have to say of you: On such and such a day, he was brave! And when you have committed follies after follies, you come running to me! It seems that I have nothing else to do but to repair them. It is true, that there would be work enough there.

Whatever may be the state of these two adventures, one was undertaken against my will, and I will not meddle in it; for the other, as you have brought some complaisance for me to bear upon it,gx I make it my business. The letter which I enclose, which you will read first and then give to the little Volanges, is more than sufficient to bring her back to you: but, I beg you, give some attention to this child, and let us make her, in concert, the despair of her mother and of Gercourt. You need not fear to increase the doses. I see clearly that the little person will not take alarm; and, our views upon her once fulfilled, she may become what she will.

I am entirely without interest on her account. I had had some desire to make of her, at least, a subalterngy in intrigue, and to take her to play understudy to me: but I see that she has not the stuff in her, she has a foolish ingenuousness, which has not even yielded to the specificgz you have employed, though it be one which rarely fails; and it is, according to me, the most dangerous disease a woman can have. It denotes, above all, a weakness of character almost always incurable, and opposed to everything; in such wise that, while we busied ourselves in forming this little girl for intrigue, we should have made nothing of her but a facile woman.ha Now I know nothing so insipid as that idiotic facility, which surrenders without knowing how or why, solely because it is attacked and knows not how to resist. Women of this kind are absolutely nothing more than pleasure machines.

You will tell me that this is all there is to do, and that it is enough for our plans. Well and good! But do not let us forget that, with that kind of machine, everybody soon attains to a knowledge of the springs and motors; in order therefore to employ this one without danger, one must hasten, stop at the right moment and break it afterward. In truth, there will be no lack of means to disembarrass ourselves of it, and Gercourt, at any rate, will shut it up securely, when it is our pleasure. Indeed, when he can no longer doubt of his dishonor, when it is quite public and notorious, what will it matter to us if he avenges, provided that he do not console, himself? What I say of the husband, you doubtless think of the mother; thus the affair is settled.

The course I deem the better, and upon which I have decided, has induced me to conduct the little person somewhat rapidly, as you will see by my letter; it also renders it most important that nothing should be left in her hands which might compromise us, and I beg you to pay attention to this. This precaution once taken, I charge myself with the moral teaching; the rest concerns you. If, however, we see in the issue that ingenuousness is cured, we have always time to change our project. We should, in any case, have had, one day or other, to occupy ourselves with what we are about to do: in no case will our pains be wasted.

Do you know that mine risked being so, and that the Gercourt’s star came near to carrying the day over my prudence? Did not Madame de Volanges show a moment of maternal weakness? Did she not want to marry her daughter to Danceny? It was that which was presaged by that more tender interest which you remarked “the day after.” It is you again who would have been the cause of this noble masterpiece! Luckily, the tender mother wrote to me, and I hope that my reply will disillusion her. I talk so much virtue in it, and above all I flatter her so, that she is bound to think I am right.

I am sorry that I have not found time to make a copy of my letter, to edify you with the austerity of my morals. You would see how I despise women who are so depraved as to take a lover! ’Tis so convenient to be a rigorist in conversation! It does no hurt, except to others, and in no way impedes ourselves…. And then, I am quite aware that the good lady had her little peccadillos like any other in her young days, and I was not sorry to humiliate her, at least before her conscience; it consoled me a little for the praises I gave her against my own. It was similarly that, in the same letter, the idea of harming Gercourt gave me the courage to speak well of him.

Adieu, Vicomte; I thoroughly approve the course you adopt in remaining some time where you are. I have no means of spurring on your progress: but I invite you to distract yourself with our common pupil. As for myself, in spite of your obliging summons, you see well that you have still to wait, and you will doubtless admit that it is not my fault.