Dangerous Liaisons —168—


MOST SURPRISING AND DISTRESSING rumors, my dear and revered friend, are being disseminated here in relation to Madame de Merteuil. I am, assuredly, very far from believing them, and I would wager well that it is nothing but a hideous calumny:jw but I am too well aware of the ease with which even the most improbable slanders acquire credit, and of the difficulty with which the impression they leave is effaced, not to be greatly alarmed at these, easy as I believe it to be to refute them. I should wish, above all, that they could be stopped in good time, before they have spread farther. But I only knew yesterday, at a late hour, of these horrors which they were just beginning to retail; and when I sent this morning to Madame de Merteuil, she had just left for the country, where she was to spend two days. They were not able to tell me to whom she had gone. Her second woman, whom I sent for to speak with me, told me that her mistress had left no orders save that she was to be expected on Thursday next; and none of the servants whom she has left here know any more. For myself, I have no notion where she may be; I cannot recollect any person of her acquaintance who stays so late in the country.

However that may be, you will be able, I hope, between now and her return, to furnish me with information which will be of use to her: for these odious stories are based on the circumstances of M. de Valmont’s death; you are likely to have been informed of them, if they are true; or, at any rate, it will be easy for you to obtain information, which I beg you to do. This is what is being published, or rather, whispered, at present; but it will certainly not be long before it spreads farther:

It is said that the quarrel between M. de Valmont and the Chevalier Danceny was the work of Madame de Merteuil, who deceived them both alike; that, as happens almost always, the two rivals began by fighting and only arrived at explanations afterward; that these explanations brought about a sincere reconciliation; and that, in order to expose Madame de Merteuil to the Chevalier Danceny, and also to justify himself entirely, M. de Valmont supported his revelations by a heap of letters, forming a regular correspondence which he had maintained with her, and in which she relates the most scandalous anecdotes about herself, and in the freest of styles.

People further say that Danceny, in the first heat of his indignation, showed these letters to all who wished to see them, and that they are now making the round of Paris. Two of them, in particular, are quoted:jx one in which she relates the whole history of her life and principles, and which is said to attain the height of horror; the other which entirely justifies M. de Prévan, whose story you will remember, by the proof it contains that all he did was to yield to the most marked advances on the part of Madame de Merteuil, and that the rendezvous was arranged with her.

I have, happily, the strongest reasons to believe that these imputations are as false as they are odious. First, we are both aware that M. de Valmont was assuredly not occupied with Madame de Merteuil, and I have every cause to believe that Danceny was equally without interest in her: thus it seems to me clearly proved that she can have been neither the motive nor the author of the quarrel. I equally fail to understand what interest Madame de Merteuil can have had, assuming her to have been in concert with M. de Prévan, in making a scene which could only be disagreeable by its publicity, and which might become most dangerous to her, since she made, thereby, an irreconcilable enemy of a man who was master in part of her secret, and who, at that time, had numerous partisans. However, it is remarkable that since that adventure not a single voice has been raised in Prévan’s favor, and that even from his own side there has been no protest made.

These reflections would lead me to suspect the author of the rumors which are abroad today, and to look upon these slanders as the work of the hatred and vengeance of a man who, knowing himself to be ruined, hopes, by such a means, at least to establish a doubt, and perhaps cause a useful diversion. But, from whatever source these malicious reports arise, the most urgent thing is to destroy them. They would cease of themselves, if it were to be shown, as is probable, that MM. de Valmont and Danceny had no communication after their unfortunate affair, and that no papers passed between them.

In my impatience to verify these facts, I sent this morning to M. Danceny; he is not in Paris either. His people told my valet-de-chambre that he had left in the night, owing to a warning he had received yesterday, and that the place of his sojourn was a secret. Apparently he is afraid of the results of his duel. ’Tis through you alone, then, my dear and revered friend, that I can be informed of the details which interest me, and which may become so necessary to Madame de Merteuil. I renew my prayer to you to acquaint me with them as soon as possible.

P.S. My daughter’s indisposition has had no consequences; she presents her respects to you.