Dangerous Liaisons —115—


IT IS AN INCREDIBLE thing, my lovely friend, how easily, when two people are separated, they cease to understand one another. As long as I was near you, we had never but one same feeling, one like fashion of seeing things; and, because for nearly three months I have ceased to see you, we are no longer of the same opinion upon anything. Which of us two is wrong? You would certainly not hesitate about your reply: but I, wiser or more polite, do not decide. I am only going to answer your letter, and continue to expound my conduct.

To begin with, I thank you for the notice you give me of the rumors which are current about me; but I am not yet uneasy: I believe I am certain to have something soon wherewith to make them cease. Reassure yourself; I shall reappear in the world only more celebrated than ever, and always more worthy of you.

I hope that even the adventure of the little Volanges will be counted for something to me, although you appear to make so little of it: as though it were nothing to carry off, in one evening, a young girl from her cherished lover; to make use of her afterward as much as one wishes, and absolutely as one’s own property, without any further pother; to obtain from her favors which one does not even dare demand from all the wenches whose trade it is; and this without in the least distracting her from her tender love; without rendering her inconstant or even unfaithful: for, as you say, I do not even fill her head! So that, when my fantasy has passed, I shall restore her to the arms of her lover, so to speak, without her having perceived anything. Pray, is this a very ordinary achievement? And then, believe me, once issued from my hands, the principles which I am imparting to her will not fail to develop; and I predict that the shy scholar will soon soar upon a flight fitting to do honor to her master.

If, nevertheless, you prefer the heroic manner, I will show you the Présidente, that exemplary model of all the virtues! respected even by our veriest libertines! of such a virtue that one had given up even the thought of attacking her! I will show her, I say, forgetting her duties and her virtue, sacrificing her reputation and two years of prudence, to run after the happiness of pleasing me, to intoxicate herself with that of loving me, finding herself sufficiently compensated for such sacrifices by a word, a glance, things which she will not even always obtain. I will do more, I will leave her; and either I do not know this woman, or she will not give me a successor. She will resist her need of consolation, the habit of pleasure, even the desire of vengeance. In short, she will have existed only for me; and, be her career short or long, I alone shall have opened and shut the barrier. Once having attained this triumph, I will say to my rivals: Behold my handiwork, and seek throughout the century for a second example!

You will ask me, whence comes today this excessive assurance? It is because for the last week I have been in my fair one’s confidence; she does not tell me her secrets, but I surprise them. Two letters from her to Madame de Rosemonde have sufficiently instructed me, and I shall only read the others out of curiosity. I require absolutely nothing else to ensure success than to approach her, and I have found the means. I shall instantly employ them.

You are curious, I believe? … But no, to punish you for not believing in my inventions, you shall not know them. Once for all, if you had your deserts, I should withdraw my confidence from you, at least in this adventure; indeed, were it not for the sweet price you have set on my success, I should speak of it no further to you. You see that I am vexed. However, in the hope that you will correct yourself, I am willing to stop with this slight punishment; and, once more grown indulgent, will forget my rash projects for a moment, to discuss your own with you.

There you are then, in the country, which is as tedious as sentiment and as sad as constancy! And that poor Belleroche! You are not contented with making him drink the waters of oblivion,8 you must also put him to the torture! How does he like it? Does he bear up well beneath the nausea of love? I would give much to see him become only the more enamored; I am curious to see what more efficacious remedy you would succeed in finding. I pity you, truly, that you have been compelled to have recourse to that. Once only in my life have I made love from calculation. I had certainly an excellent reason, since it was to the Comtesse de —; and twenty times I was tempted to say, while in her arms, “Madame, I renounce the place I am soliciting; permit me to retire from that which I occupy.” Wherefore, of all the women I have had, she is the only one of whom it gives me real pleasure to speak ill.

As for your own motive, I find it, to tell the truth, of a rare absurdity; and you were right in believing I should never guess the successor. What! It is for Danceny you are taking all this trouble! Oh, my dear friend, leave him to adore his virtuous Cécile, and do not compromise yourself at these childish games. Leave boys to form themselves in their nurses’ hands, or to play with schoolgirls at little innocent games. How can you burden yourself with a novice, who will know neither how to take you nor how to leave you, and with whom all will have to be done by you! I tell you, seriously, I disapprove of this choice; and however secret it may remain, it will humiliate you at least in my eyes and in your own conscience.

You have taken, you say, a great fancy to him: nay, nay, you surely make a mistake; and I even believe I have found the source of your error. This fine disgust with Belleroche came to you at a time of famine; and, as Paris offered you no choice, your ideas, which are always too volatile, turned toward the first object they encountered. But reflect: on your return you will be able to choose between a thousand; and if, in fine, you dread the inaction in which you risk falling if you delay, I offer myself to you to amuse your leisure.

By the time of your arrival, my great affairs will be terminated in some fashion or other; and assuredly neither the little Volanges nor the Présidente herself will occupy me so much then as to prevent me from being with you as much as you desire. Perhaps, even, between now and then, I shall have already restored the little girl into the hands of her discreet lover. Without admitting, whatever you may say, that it is not a pleasure which attaches, as it is my intention that she should retain all her life a superior notion of me to that of all other men, I have adopted a tone with her, which I could not keep up long without injuring my health; and, from henceforth, I am only drawn to her by the care which one owes to family affairs….

You do not understand me? … The fact is that I am awaiting a second period to confirm my hope, and to assure me that I have thoroughly succeeded in my projects. Yes, my lovely friend, I have already a first indication that the husband of my pupil will not run the risk of dying without posterity; and that the head of the house of Gercourt will be in future only a cadet of that of Valmont.9 But let me finish, at my fantasy, this adventure which I only undertook at your entreaty. Remember that, if you render Danceny inconstant, you destroy all the raciness of the story. Consider, finally, that offering, as I do, to represent him for you, I have, it seems to me, some right to be preferred.

I count so much on this, that I am not afraid to cross your views, by endeavoring myself to augment the discreet lover’s tender passion for the first and worthy object of his choice. Yesterday, having found your pupil employed in writing to him, after I had first disturbed her at this sweet occupation for the sake of another, sweeter still, I asked to see her letter; and as I found it cold and constrained, I made her feel that it was not thus that she should console her lover, and persuaded her to write another at my dictation; in which, imitating, as well as I could, her little prattle, I tried to foster the young man’s love by a more certain hope. The little person was quite enchanted, she said, to find herself expressing herself so well; and, for the future, I am to be charged with the correspondence. What have I not done for this Danceny? I shall have been at once his friend, his confidant, his rival and his mistress! Again, at this moment, I am rendering him the service of saving him from your dangerous chains. Yes, dangerous without a doubt: for to possess you and lose you is to buy a moment of happiness with an eternity of regret. Adieu, my lovely friend; have the courage to dispatch Belleroche as soon as you can. Leave Danceny alone, and prepare yourself to receive once more, and to renew to me, the delicious pleasures of our first liaison.10

P.S. I congratulate you upon the approaching decision of the great lawsuit. I shall be delighted if this happy event occurs during my reign.