Dangerous Liaisons —121—


I HAD HOPED, MY amiable daughter, to be able at least to calm your anxieties; and I see with grief, on the contrary, that I must still augment them. Be calm, however; my nephew is not in danger: I cannot even say that he is really ill. But something extraordinary is assuredly passing within him. I understand naught of it; but I left his room with a sentiment of sadness, perhaps even of alarm, which I reproach myself for causing you to share, although I cannot refrain from discussing it with you. This is the narrative of what passed: you may rest assured that it is a faithful one; for, if I were to live another eighty years, I should never forget the impression which this sad scene made upon me.

I visited my nephew this morning; I found him writing, surrounded by sundry heaps of papers which seemed to be the object of his labors. He was so busied that I was already in the middle of his chamber before he turned his head to discover who had entered. As soon as he recognized me, I noticed clearly that, on rising, he made an effort to compose his features, and it was this fact, perhaps, which further attracted my attention. In truth, he had made no toilette and wore no powder; but I found him pale and wan, and, above all, of a changed expression. His glance, which we have known so gay and keen, was sad and downcast; in short, between ourselves, I should not have cared for you to see him thus; for he had a very pathetic air, and most fitting, I dare believe, to inspire that tender pity which is one of the most dangerous snares of love.

Although impressed by what I had noticed, I nonetheless commenced the conversation as though I had perceived nothing. I spoke to him first of his health; and, though he did not tell me that it was good, he nevertheless did not say that it was bad. Thereupon, I complained of his retirement, which had almost the air of a mania, and I tried to infuse a little gaiety into my mild reproof; but he only answered, in heartfelt accents, “It is one wrong the more, I confess; but it shall be retrieved with the rest.” His expression, even more than his words, somewhat disturbed my playfulness, and I hastened to tell him that he attached too much importance to a mere friendly reproach.

We then commenced to talk quietly. He told me soon afterward that perhaps an affair, the most important affair of his life, would shortly recall him to Paris: but as I was afraid of guessing it, my dearest fair, and feared lest this prologue should lead up to a confidence which I did not desire, I put no question to him, and contented myself with replying that a little more dissipation would benefit his health. I added that, this once, I would not press him to remain, as I loved my friends for themselves; at this simple expression, he grasped my hands, and, speaking with a vehemence which I cannot describe to you: “Yes, aunt,” he said to me, “love, love well a nephew who respects and cherishes you; and, as you say, love him for himself. Do not grieve about his happiness, and do not trouble, with any regret, the eternal peace which he hopes soon to enjoy. Repeat to me that you love me, that you forgive me. Yes, you will forgive me, I know your goodness; but how can I hope for the same indulgence from those whom I have so greatly offended?” He then stooped over me to conceal, as I think, the signs of grief which, in spite of himself, the sound of his voice betrayed to me.

Moved more than I can say, I rose precipitately; and doubtless he noticed my alarm, for, at once growing more composed: “Pardon me,” he resumed, “pardon me, Madame; I feel that I am wandering, in spite of my will. I beg you to forget my remarks, and only to remember my profound veneration. I shall not fail,” he added, “to come and renew my respects to you before my departure.” It seemed to me that this last sentence suggested that I should bring my visit to a conclusion, and I went away.

But the more I reflect upon it, the less can I guess what he wished to say. What is this affair, the most important of his life? On what ground does he ask my forgiveness? Whence that involuntary emotion when he spoke to me? I have already asked myself these questions a thousand times without being able to reply to them. I do not even see anything therein which relates to you: however, as the eyes of love are more clear-sighted than those of friendship, I was unwilling to leave you in ignorance of anything that passed between my nephew and myself.

I have made four attempts to finish this long letter, which would be longer still, were it not for the fatigue I feel. Adieu, my dearest fair.