Dangerous Liaisons —127—


IF I HAVE NOT replied to your letter of the 19th, Vicomte, it is not that I have not had the time; it is quite simply that it put me in a bad humor, and that I found it lacking in common sense. I thought, therefore, that I could not do better than leave it in oblivion: but, since you come back to it, since you appear to cling to the ideas it contains, and take my silence for consent, I must tell you plainly what I think.

I may sometimes have had the pretension to replace in my single person a whole seraglio; but it has never suited me to make a partij of one. I thought you knew this. Now, at least, when you can no longer be ignorant of it, you will easily imagine how absurd your proposal must have appeared to me. I indeed! I am to sacrifice a fancy, and a fresh fancy moreover, in order to occupy myself with you! And to occupy myself in what way? By awaiting my turn, like a submissive slave, for the sublime favors of Your Highness! When, forsooth, you want a moment’s distraction from that unknown charm which the adorable, the celestial Madame de Tourvel has alone made you experience, or when you are afraid of compromising, in the eyes of the seductive Cécile, the superior idea which it is your good pleasure that she should preserve of you: then, condescending even to myself, you will come in search of pleasures, less keen in truth, but without consequence; and your precious bounties, although somewhat rare, will, nevertheless, suffice for my happiness!

You, certainly, are rich in your good opinion of yourself: but, apparently, I am not equally so in modesty; for however I may look at myself, I cannot find myself reduced to such a point. Perhaps this is a fault of mine; but I warn you I have many others also.

I have, in especial, that of believing that the schoolboy, the mawkish Danceny, who is solely occupied with me, and sacrifices to me, without making a merit of it, a first passion, even before it has been satisfied, who, in a word, loves me as one loves at his age, may work more effectively than you, for all his twenty years, to secure my happiness and my pleasure. I will even permit myself to add that, if it were my whim to give him an assistant, it would not be you, at any rate not at this moment.

And for what reasons, do you ask me? But, to begin with, there might very well be none: for the caprice which might make me prefer you could equally cause your exclusion. However, I am quite willing, out of politeness, to give you the reason of my opinion. It seems to me that you would have too many sacrifices to make me; and I, instead of being grateful for them, as you would not fail to expect, might be capable of believing that you were still my debtor! You quite see that, far as we are from each other in our fashion of thinking, we cannot come together again in any manner: and I am afraid that it might need time, a long time, before I should change my sentiments. When I am converted, I promise I will inform you. Until then, believe me, make other arrangements, and keep your kisses; you have so many better occasions to dispose of them! …

Adieu, as of old, say you? But of old, it seems to me, you took a little more account of me; you had not relegated me entirely to minor parts; and, above all, you were quite willing to wait until I had said yes, before being sure of my consent. Be satisfied then, if instead of bidding you also adieu as of old, I bid you adieu as at present.

Your servant, M. le Vicomte.