Dangerous Liaisons —121—


I HAVE RECEIVED YOUR letter, my too youthful friend; but, before I thank you, I must scold you, and I warn you that, if you do not correct yourself, you shall have no more answers from me. Quit then, if you will believe me, that tone of flattery, which is no more than jargon,ib when it is not the expression of love. Pray, is that the language of friendship? No, my friend, every sentiment has its befitting speech, and to make use of any other is to disguise the thought which one expresses. I am well aware that our frivolous women understand nothing that is said to them, if it be not translated, in some way, into this customary jargon; but I confess that I thought I deserved that you should distinguish between them and me. I am truly grieved, and perhaps more than I ought to be, that you have judged me so ill.

You will only find then in my letter the qualities which yours lacks: frankness and simplicity. I will certainly tell you, for instance, that it would give me great pleasure to see you, and that I am vexed to have only tiresome people round me instead of people who please me; but this very phrase you translate thus: Teach me to live where you are not; so that, I suppose, when you are with your mistress, you will not be able to live unless I make a third. The pity of it! And these women who always fail in being me: perhaps you find that your Cécile also fails in that! That, however, is the result of a language which, owing to the abuse made of it nowadays, is even lower than the jargon of compliments, and has become no more than a mere formula, in which one no more believes than in a most humble servant.

My friend, when you write to me, let it be to tell me your fashion of thinking and feeling, and not to send me phrases which I can find, without your aid, more or less well turned in any novel of the day. I hope you will not be angry at what I am telling you, even if you should detect a little ill humor; for I do not deny I feel some: but, to avoid even the shadow of the fault for which I reproach you, I will not tell you that this ill humor is, perhaps, somewhat augmented by the distance at which I am from you. It seems to me that, all considered, you are worth more than a lawsuit and two advocates, perhaps even more than the attentive Belleroche.

You see that, instead of despairing at my absence, you ought to congratulate yourself upon it, for I have never paid you so pretty a compliment. I believe your example is catching, and I, too, am inclined to flatter you; but nay, I prefer to keep to my frankness; it is that alone, then, which assures you of my tender friendship, and of the interest which it inspires in me. It is very sweet to have a young friend whose heart is occupied elsewhere. That is not the system of all women, but it is mine. It seems to me that one abandons oneself with more pleasure to a sentiment from which one can have nothing to fear: thus I have passed with you, early enough, perhaps, into the role of confidant. But you choose your mistresses so young that you have made me perceive for the first time that I begin to grow old! You have acted well in preparing for yourself a long career of constancy, and I wish with all my heart that it may be reciprocated.

You are right in yielding to the pure and tender motives which, according to what you tell me, delay your happiness. A long defense is the only merit left to those who do not resist always; and what I should find unpardonable in any other than a child like the little Volanges would be the lack of knowledge how to escape a danger of which she has been amply forewarned by the confession she has made of her love. You men have no idea of what virtue is, nor of what it costs to sacrifice it! But, however incapable a woman may be of reasoning, she ought to know that, independently of the sin which she commits, a frailty is the greatest of misfortunes to her; and I cannot conceive how anyone can ever let herself be caught, if she has time for a moment’s reflection on the subject.

Do not proceed to dispute this idea, for it is this which principally attaches me to you. You will save me from the perils of love; and, although I have known well enough hitherto to defend myself without your aid, I consent to be grateful to you for it, and I shall love you for it the more and better.

Upon this, my dear Chevalier, I pray God to have you in His good and holy keeping.