Dangerous Liaisons —152—


PRAY, HAVE A CARE, Vicomte, and show more respect to my extreme timidity! How do you suppose that I can endure the overwhelming thought of incurring your wrath, and, above all, how can I fail to succumb to the fear of your vengeance? The more so in that, as you know, if you were to blacken me, it would be impossible for me to retaliate. I might speak, indeed, but your existence would be nonetheless brilliant and calm. In fact, what would you have to fear? To be sure, you would be obliged to leave, if the time were left you for it. But can one not live abroad as well as here? And all considered, provided that the Court of France left you in peace at whatever one you had chosen for your abode, it would merely be a case of shifting the scene of your triumphs. Having attempted to restore your coolness by these moral considerations, let us return to business.

Do you know, Vicomte, why I have never married again? It is not, assuredly, for lack of advantageous offers; it is solely in order that nobody should have the right to dictate my actions. It is not even that I was afraid of no longer being able to carry out my wishes, for I should always have ended by doing that; but that it would have been a burden to me, that anyone should have had the right merely to complain of them; it is, in short, because I wished only to deceive for my pleasure, and not from necessity. And here you are, writing me the most marital letter that it is possible to receive! You speak to me of nothing but the injuries on my side, the favors on yours! But how, pray, can one be lacking to one to whom one owes no whit? I am unable to conceive it.

Let us consider: what is all this ado about? You found Danceny with me, and it displeased you? Well and good: but what conclusion can you have drawn from it? Either it was the result of chance, as I told you, or of my will, as I did not tell you. In the first case, your letter is unjust; in the second, it is ridiculous: it was indeed worth the trouble of writing! But you are jealous, and jealousy does not reason. Very well, let me reason for you.

Either you have a rival or you have not. If you have one, you must please, in order to be preferred to him; if you have not, you must still please, in order to avoid having one. In both cases the same conduct is to be observed: why, therefore, torment yourself? Above all, why torment me? Do you no longer know how to be the most amiable? And are you no longer sure of your successes? Come now, Vicomte, you do yourself an injustice. But it is not that; it is that, in your eyes, I am not worth your putting yourself to so much trouble. You are less desirous of my favors than you are of abusing your empire. There, you are an ingrate. That is enough sentiment, methinks, and if I were to continue a very little longer, this letter might well turn to tenderness: but that you do not deserve!

You deserve just as little that I should justify myself. To punish you for your suspicions, you shall retain them: of the time of my return, therefore, just as of the visits of Danceny, I shall tell you nothing. You have taken mighty pains to inform yourself, have you not? Very well! Are you any more advanced? I hope it has given you a great deal of pleasure; I can tell you, it has not interfered with mine. All I can say, then, in reply to your threatening letter, is that it has had neither the fortune to please me, nor the power to intimidate me; and that, for the moment, I could not be less disposed than I am to grant your request.

In truth, to accept you such as you show yourself today would be to commit a real infidelity to you. It would not be a renewal with my old lover; it would be to take a fresh one, and one by no means worth the old. I have not so far forgotten the first that I should so deceive myself. The Valmont whom I loved was charming. I will even admit that I have never encountered a man more amiable. Ah, let me beg you, Vicomte, if you find him again, to bring him to see me; he will be always well received!

Warn him, however, that in no case will it be for today or tomorrow. His Menæchmus has somewhat injured him;5 and, if I were in too much haste, I should be afraid of making a mistake; or, perhaps, if you like, I have pledged my word to Danceny for those two days! And your letter has taught me that it is no joking matter with you, when one breaks one’s word. You see, then, that you must wait. But what does it matter to you? You can always avenge yourself on your rival. He will do no worse to your mistress than you will do to his; and, after all, is not one woman as good as another? Such are your principles. She even who should be tender and sensitive, who should live for you alone, who, in short, should die from love and regret, would be, nonetheless, sacrificed to the first fantasy, to the dread of a moment’s ridicule; and you would have one put oneself about? Ah, that is not fair!

Adieu, Vicomte; pray, become amiable once more. You see, I ask nothing better than to find you charming; and as soon as I am sure of it, I undertake to give you the proof. Truly, I am too kind.