Dangerous Liaisons —113—


I THINK I OUGHT to warn you, Vicomte, that they are beginning to busy themselves with you in Paris; your absence is remarked there, and they are already divining the cause. I was yesterday at a very numerous supper; it was said positively that you were retained in the country by an unhappy and romantic love: joy was immediately depicted on the faces of all those envious of your success, and of all the women whom you have neglected. If you are advised by me, you will not let these dangerous rumors acquire credit, but will come at once to destroy them by your presence.

Remember that, if you once allow the idea that you are irresistible to be lost, you will soon find that it will, as a matter of fact, become easier to resist you; that your rivals, too, will lose their respect for you, and dare to combat you: for which of them does not believe himself stronger than virtue? Reflect above all that, in the multitude of women whom you have advertised,hp all those whom you have not had will endeavor to undeceive the public, while the others will exert themselves to hoodwink it. In short, you must expect to be appreciated, perhaps, as much below your value, as you have been, hitherto, beyond it.

Come back, then, Vicomte, and do not sacrifice your reputation to a puerile caprice. You have done all we wished with the little Volanges; and as for your Présidente, it is not, apparently, by remaining ten leagues away from her, that you will get over your fantasy. Do you think she will come to fetch you? Perhaps she has already ceased to dream of you, or is only so far occupied with you as to congratulate herself on having humiliated you. At any rate, here you will be able to find some opportunity of a brilliant reappearance : and you have need of one; and even if you insist on your ridiculous adventure, I do not see how your return can hurt it… on the contrary.

In effect, if your Présidente adores you, as you have so often told me and said so little to prove, her sole consolation, her sole pleasure now, must be to talk of you, and to know what you are doing, what you are saying, what you are thinking, even the slightest detail which concerns you. These trifles increase in value according to the extent of the privations one endures. They are the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table: he disdains them; but the poor man collects them greedily, and feeds on them. Now the poor Présidente gathers up all these crumbs at present; and the more she has, the less will be her haste to abandon herself to her appetite for the rest.

Moreover, since you know her confidant, you cannot doubt but that each of her letters contains at least one little sermon, and all that she thinks befitting “to corroborate her prudence and fortify her virtue.“hq Why, then, leave to the one resources to defend herself, to the other the means of injuring you?

It is not that I am at all of your opinion as to the loss you believe you have sustained by the change of confidant. In the first place, Madame de Volanges hates you, and hatred is always clearer-sighted and more ingenious than friendship. All the virtue of your old aunt will not persuade her to speak ill of her dear nephew for a single moment, for virtue also has its weaknesses. Next, your fears depend upon a consideration which is absolutely false.

It is not true that the older women grow, the more crabbed and severe they become. It is betwixt the ages of forty and fifty that their despair at the sight of their fading faces, their rage at feeling obliged to abandon their pretensions and the pleasures to which they still cling, render almost all women scolds and shrews. They need this long interval to make the great sacrifice in its entirety; but, as soon as it is consummated, all distribute themselves into two classes. The most numerous, that of the women who have had nothing in their favor save their faces and youth, falls into an imbecile apathy, and only issues from this for the sake of play or of a few practices of devotion ; this kind is always tiresome, often fond of scolding, sometimes a little mischievous, but rarely malicious. One cannot tell, either, whether these women are, or are not, severe: without ideas, without an existence, they repeat indifferently, and without understanding, all that they hear said, and in themselves remain absolutely null. The other class, far rarer, but really precious, is that of the women who, having possessed character, and not having neglected to cultivate their reason, know how to create an existence for themselves when that of nature fails them, and adopt the plan of transferring to their minds the adornments which they had before employed for their faces. These last have, as a rule, a very sound judgment and an intelligence at once solid, gay, and gracious. hr They replace seductive charms by ingratiating kindness, and even by sprightliness, the charm of which increases in proportion to their age: it is thus that they succeed, after a fashion, in attracting youth by making themselves loved by it. But then, far from being, as you say, crabbed and severe, the habit of indulgence,hs their long reflections upon human frailty, and, above all, the memories of their youth, through which alone they have a hold on life, would rather place them, perhaps too much, on the side of complaisance. ht

What I may say to you, finally, is that, having always sought out old women, the utility of whose support I recognized at an early age, I have encountered several among them to whom I was led as much by inclination as interest. I stop there: for nowadays, when you take fire so quickly and so morally, I should be afraid lest you fell suddenly in love with your aged aunt, and buried yourself with her in the tomb in which you have already lived so long. I resume then.

In spite of the state of enchantment in which you seem to be with your little schoolgirl, I cannot believe that she counts at all in your projects. You found her to your hand, you took her: well and good! But it cannot be that your fancy enters into it. To tell the truth, it is not even a complete pleasure: you possess absolutely nothing beyond her person! I do not speak of her heart, in which I do not doubt you take not the slightest interest; but you do not even fill her head. I know not whether you have perceived it, but, for myself, I have the proof of it in the last letter she sent me;hu I send it you, that you may judge of it. Observe that when she speaks of you, it is always as M. de Valmont; that all her ideas, even those which you give rise to, always end in Danceny; and she does not call him Monsieur, it is plain Danceny always. Thereby, she singles him out from all the rest; and, even while abandoning herself to you, she is familiar only with him. If such a conquest seems to you seductive, if the pleasures she gives attach you, you are assuredly modest and not hard to please! That you should retain her, I consent to that; it even forms part of my projects. But it seems to me that it is not worth putting yourself to a quarter of an hour’s inconvenience; also, that you had best acquire some dominion over her, and not allow her, for instance, to approach Danceny until after you have made her forget him a little more.

Before I cease to occupy myself with you, and come to myself, I wish to tell you again that this means of sickness, which you announce it is your resolve to employ, is well known and mighty stale. Truly, Vicomte, you have no invention!hv I myself repeat myself sometimes, as you are about to see; but I try to save myself by the details, and, above all, I am justified by success. I am going to try another still, and run after a new adventure. I admit that it will not have the merit of difficulty; but at least it will be a distraction, and I am perishing with ennui.

I know not why, but, since the adventure of Prévan, Belleroche has become insupportable. He has redoubled his attention, his tenderness, his veneration to such a degree that I can no longer submit to it. His anger seemed to me, at the outset, amusing; it was very necessary, however, to calm it, for to let him go on would have been to compromise myself; and there was no means of making him listen to reason. I adopted the course then of showing him more love, in order to make an end of it more easily: but he has taken this seriously, and ever since surfeits me with his eternal delight. I notice, especially, the insulting trust which he shows in me, and the security with which he considers me as his forever. I am really humiliated by it. He must rate me lightly indeed, if he believes he has worth enough to make me constant! Did he not tell me recently that I could never have loved anyone but himself? Oh, for the moment I had need of all my prudence not to undeceive him on the spot, by telling him how matters stood. A merry gentleman, forsooth, to think he has exclusive rights! I admit that he is well made and of a fair enough countenance; but, all considered, he is, in fact, but a journeyman lovemaker.hw In short, the moment has come when we must separate.

I have been attempting this for the last fortnight, and have employed, in turn, coldness, caprice, ill humor, and quarrels; but the tenacious personage is not made thus to lose his hold: a more violent method must be adopted therefore; consequently, I am taking him to my country place. We leave the day after tomorrow. With us there will only be a few uninterested persons, by no means clear-sighted, and we shall have almost as much liberty as if we were there alone. There I will surfeithx him with love and caresses to such a degree, we will live there so entirely for one another, that I wager he will be more desirous than I am myself for the end of this expedition, which he considers so great a piece of good fortune; and, if he does not return more weary of me than I am of him, tell me that I know no more than you, and I will admit it.

My pretext for this sort of retreat is that I wish to busy myself exclusively with my great lawsuit, which, in fact, will be at last decided at the commencement of the winter. I am very glad of it; for it is really disagreeable to have one’s whole fortune hanging thus in the air. ’Tis not that I am at all anxious as to the result; in the first place, I am in the right, all my lawyers assure me so; and, even if I were not, I should be maladroit indeed if I knew not how to gain a suit where my only adversaries are minors, still of immature years, and their aged guardian! As nothing, however, should be neglected in a matter of so great importance, I shall have two advocates on my side. Does not this expedition seem to you gay? However, if it serves me to win my suit and rid myself of Belleroche, I shall not think the time wasted.

Now, Vicomte, divine his successor: I give you a hundred guesses. But what is the use? Do I not know that you never guess anything? Well then, it is Danceny! You are astonished, are you not? For after all I am not yet reduced to the education of children! But this one deserves to form an exception; he has but the graces of youth, and not its frivolity. His great reserve in society is well calculated to remove all suspicion, and one finds him only the more amiable, when he lets himself go in a tête-à-tête. Not that I have yet had one with him on my own account, I am still no more than his confidant; but beneath this veil of friendship, I believe I discern a very lively taste for me, and I feel that I am conceiving a great one for him. It were a mighty pity that so much wit and delicacy should be debased and wasted upon that little fool of a Volanges! I hope he is deceived in believing that he loves her: she so little deserves it! ’Tis not that I am jealous of her; it is because it would be a crime, and I would save Danceny. I beg you then, Vicomte, to take precautions that he may not approach his Cécile (as he still has the bad habit of calling her). A first fancy has always more sway than one thinks; and I should feel sure of nothing, were he to see her again at present, especially during my absence. On my return, I charge myself with everything, and answer for the result.

I thought seriously of taking the young man with me: but, as usual, I have made a sacrifice to my prudence; moreover I should have been afraid lest he discovered anything between Belleroche and myself, and I should be in despair if he were to have the least idea of what was passing. I would at least offer myself to his imagination as pure and spotless, such indeed as one should be, to be really worthy of him.