Dangerous Liaisons —124—


IN THE MIDST OF the astonishment, in which the news I received yesterday has thrown me, Madame, I cannot forget the satisfaction which it must cause you, and I hasten to acquaint you with it. M. de Valmont is no longer occupied either with me or with his love; he would only retrieve by a more edifying life the faults, or rather the errors, of his youth. I have been informed of this great event by the Père Anselme, to whom he applied for future direction, and also in order to contrive an interview with me, the principal object of which I judge to be the return of my letters, which he had hitherto retained, in spite of the request I had made him to the contrary.

Doubtless, I cannot but applaud this happy termination, and felicitate myself, if, as he states, I am in any way responsible for it. But why needed it that I should be the instrument, and why should it have cost me my life’s repose? Could not M. de Valmont’s happiness have been secured by any other means than my misery? Oh, my indulgent friend, forgive me this complaint! I know that it is not mine to question the decrees of God; but while I pray to Him ceaselessly, and always in vain, for strength to conquer my unhappy love, He lavishes it on one who has not prayed for it, and leaves me without succor, utterly abandoned to my weakness.

But let me stifle this guilty plaint.ic Do I not know that the prodigal son on his return obtained more favor from his father than the son who had never been absent?11 What account have we to ask from Him who owes us nothing? And even were it possible that we had any rights before Him, what had been my own? Could I boast of a virtue that already I do but owe to Valmont? He has saved me, and how should I dare complain if I suffer for his sake! No, my sufferings will be dear to me, if his happiness is the price. Doubtless, it was needful for him to return to the common Father. The God who made him must have cherished His handiwork. He did not create this charming being only to be a reprobate. ’Tis for me to pay the penalty of my audacious imprudence; ought I not to have felt that, since it was forbidden me to love him, I ought never to have allowed myself to see him?

’Tis my fault or my misfortune that I held out too long against this truth. You are my witness, my dear and venerable friend, that I submitted to this sacrifice as soon as I recognized its necessity: but it just failed in being complete, in that M. de Valmont did not share it. Shall I confess to you that it is this idea which, at present, torments me most? Insufferable pride, which sweetens the ills we bear by the thought of those we inflict! Ah, I will conquer this rebellious heart, I will accustom myself to humiliations!

It is above all to obtain this result that I have at last consented to receive, on Thursday next, the painful visit of M. de Valmont. Then I shall hear him tell me himself that I am nothing to him; that the weak and fugitive impression I had made upon him is entirely effaced! I shall see his gaze directed toward me without emotion, while the fear of betraying my own will make me lower my eyes. Those same letters which he refused so long to my repeated requests I shall receive from his indifference; he will give them up to me as useless things, which have no further interest for him; and my trembling hands, receiving this deposit of shame, will feel that it is given to them by a hand which is firm and tranquil! And then I shall see him depart from me … depart forever; and my eyes, which will follow him, will not see his own look back to me!

And I have been reserved for so much humiliation! Ah, let me, at least, make use of it by allowing it to impregnate me with the sentiment of my weakness…. Yes, these letters, which he no longer cares to keep, I will religiously preserve. I will impose on myself the shame of reading them daily until the last traces of them are effaced by my tears; and his own I will burn as infected by the dangerous poison which has corrupted my soul. Oh, what is this love then, if it makes us regret even the risks to which it has exposed us; if one can be afraid of feeling it still, even when one no longer inspires it? Let us shun this dire passion, which leaves no choice save betwixt misery or shame, nay, often unites them both: let prudence at least replace virtue.

How far away is Thursday still! Why can I not this instant consummate the grievous sacrifice, and forget at once its object and its cause! This visit troubles me; I repent of my promise of it. Alas! What need has he to see me again? What are we to one another now? If he has offended me, I forgive him. I congratulate him even on his wish to repair his faults; I praise him for it. I will do more, I will imitate him; and I, who have been beguiled by like errors, shall be brought back by his example. But, since his intention is to flee from me, why does he begin by seeking me out? What is most urgent for either of us, is it not that each should forget the other? Doubtless that is so; and that, henceforth, shall be my sole care.

If you will permit me, my amiable friend, I will come to you in order to occupy myself with this arduous task. If I have need of succor, perhaps even of consolation, I will not receive it from any other than you. You alone know how to understand me and to speak to my heart. Your precious friendship shall fill my whole existence. Nothing shall seem too difficult for me to second the care that you must take of yourself. I shall owe you my tranquillity, my happiness, my virtue, and the fruit of your kindness to me will be that, at last, I shall become worthy of it.

I have written very wildly, I think, in this letter; I gather so, at least, from the trouble which has unceasingly harassed me while writing. If any sentiments occur in it at which I ought to blush, cover them with the indulgence of your friendship; I rely upon it entirely. It is not from you that I would hide any of the movements of my heart.

Adieu, my venerable friend. I hope, in a few days, to announce the day of my arrival.