Dangerous Liaisons —131—


’TIS WELL DONE, VICOMTE, and I am better pleased with you this time than the last; but now, let us talk in all friendship, and I hope to convince you that, for you as for myself, the arrangement which you appear to desire would be a veritable piece of madness.

Have you not yet remarked that pleasure, which is, in effect, the sole motive of the union of the two sexes, does not, nevertheless, suffice to form a liaison between them; and that, if it is preceded by the desire which attracts, it is no less followed by the disgust which repels? ’Tis a law of nature which love alone can change; and love: does one have it when one wills? Yet one needs it ever; and it would be really too embarrassing, if one had not discovered that it happily suffices if it exists only on one side. The difficulty has thus been rendered less by one half, even without much being lost thereby; in fact, the one derives pleasure from the happiness of loving, the other from that of pleasing, which is a little less keen indeed, but to which is added the pleasure of deceiving; that sets up an equilibrium, and everything is arranged.

But tell me, Vicomte, which of us two will undertake to deceive the other? You know the story of the two sharpers, who recognized each other while playing: “We shall make nothing,” said they, “let us divide the cost of the cards;” and they gave up the game. We had best follow, believe me, their prudent example, and not lose time together which we can so well employ elsewhere.

To prove to you that in this I am influenced as much by your interests as my own, and that I am acting neither from ill humor nor caprice, I do not refuse you the price agreed upon between us: I feel perfectly that each of us will suffice to the other for one night; and I do not even doubt but that we should know too well how to adorn it, not to see it end with regret. But do not let us forget that this regret is necessary to happiness; and, however sweet be our illusion, let us not believe that it can be lasting.

You see that I am meeting you in my turn, and even before you have yet set yourself right with me: for, after all, I was to have the first letter of the celestial prude; however, whether because you still cling to it, or because you have forgotten the conditions of a bargain which interests you, perhaps, less than you would fain have me believe, I have received nothing, absolutely nothing. Yet, unless I make a mistake, the tender Puritan must write frequently; else what would she do when she is alone? Surely she has not wit enough to distract herself? I could have, then, did I wish, some slight reproaches to make you; but I pass them over in silence, in consideration of a little temper that I showed, perhaps, in my last letter.

Now, Vicomte, it only remains for me to make one request of you, and this is again as much for your sake as my own; it is to postpone a moment which I desire, perhaps, as much as you, but the date of which must, I think, be deferred until my return to town. On the one hand, we should not find the necessary freedom here; and, on the other, I should incur some risk: for it needs but a little jealousy to attach this tedious Belleroche more closely than ever to my side, although he now only holds by a thread. He is already driven to exert himself in order to love me; to such a degree at present that I put as much malice as prudence into the caresses which I lavish on him. But at the same time you can see that this would not be a sacrifice to make to you! A reciprocal infidelity will render the charm far more potent.

Do you know I regret sometimes that we are reduced to these resources! In the days when we loved—for I believe it was love—I was happy; and you, Vicomte! … But why be longer concerned with a happiness which cannot return? Nay, say what you will, such a return is impossible. First, I should require sacrifices which, assuredly, you could not or would not make, and which, like enough, I do not deserve; and then, how is it possible to fix you? Oh, no, no. I will not even occupy myself with the idea; and, in spite of the pleasure which I derive at the present moment from writing to you, I far prefer to leave you abruptly.

Adieu, Vicomte.