Dangerous Liaisons —169—



Perhaps you will think the step I am taking today very unusual: but I entreat you to hear before you judge me, and to see neither boldness nor temerity, where only respect and confidence is meant. I do not deny the injury I have done you; and I should not pardon myself for it, all my life, if I could think for a moment that it had been possible for me to avoid it. Be even persuaded, Madame, that, if I am exempt from reproach, I am not equally so from regrets; and I may add, with equal sincerity, that those which I have caused you count for much in those which I feel. In order to believe in these sentiments of which I venture to assure you, it will suffice for you to render justice to yourself, and to reflect that, without having the honor of being known to you, I have, however, that of knowing you.

Meanwhile, while I groan over the fatality which has been the cause at once of your grief and my misfortunes, I have been led to fear that, absorbed in your vengeance, you would seek out means of gratifying it, even through the severity of the laws. Allow me, first, to point out to you, on this subject, that here you are led astray by your sorrow, since my interest in this matter is essentially at one with that of M. de Valmont, and that he would himself be involved in the condemnation which you would have provoked against me. I believe then, Madame, that I can count on assistance, rather than on obstacles, on your part, in any efforts I may be obliged to make, so that this unhappy event may remain buried in silence.

But this resource of complicity, which befits the innocent and the guilty alike, is not sufficient for my delicacy: while desiring to remove you as a party to the suit, I demand you as my judge. The esteem of persons whom we respect is too precious that I should let yours be taken from me without defending it, and I believe I possess the means.

In fact, if you will admit that vengeance is allowed, or say rather, that it is one’s bounden duty, when one has been betrayed in one’s love, in one’s friendship, and, above all, in one’s confidence; if you admit this, my wrongs against you will vanish from your eyes. Do not take my word for this; but read, if you have the courage, the correspondence which I place in your hands.jy The quantity of original letters which it contains seems to lend authenticity to those of which only copies exist. For the rest, I received these letters, just as I have the honor to forward them to you, from M. de Valmont himself. I have added nothing to them, and I have only extracted two letters which I have permitted myself to publish.

One of these was necessary to the common vengeance of M. de Valmont and of myself; to this we had both a right, and I had been expressly charged with it by him. I thought, moreover, that I was rendering a service to society, in unmasking a woman so really dangerous as is Madame de Merteuil, who, as you will see, was the sole and veritable cause of all that passed between M. de Valmont and myself.

A feeling of justice also induced me to publish the second, for the justification of M. de Prévan, whom I hardly know, but who had in no way merited the rigorous treatment which he has experienced, nor the still more redoubtable judgment of the public, beneath which he has been groaning, ever since, without any means of defense.

You will only find copies, then, of these two letters, the originals of which I owe it to myself to keep. For all the rest, I do not believe I can remit in surer hands a deposit the destruction of which is not, perhaps, to my interest, but which I should blush to abuse. I believe, Madame, that, in confiding these papers to you, I am serving the persons interested in them, as well as if I remitted them to themselves; and I spare them the embarrassment of receiving them from me, and of knowing me to be informed of adventures of which they doubtless desire all the world to remain ignorant.

I think I ought to warn you, on this subject, that the adjoined correspondence only forms part of a far more voluminous collection, from which M. de Valmont extracted it in my presence, and which you will find, on the removal of the seals, under the title, which I saw, of “Account opened between the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont.” You will adopt, in this matter, whatever course your prudence may suggest.

I am with respect, Madame, etc.

P.S. Certain information which I have received, and the advice of my friends, have decided my absence from Paris for some time: but the place of my retreat, which is kept a secret for everybody, will not be one for you. If you honor me with a reply, I beg you to address it to the Commanderiejz de … by P … , under cover to M. le Commandeur de —. It is from his house that I have the honor to write to you.