Dangerous Liaisons —173—


O MY FRIEND, IN what a fearful veil do you envelop my daughter’s lot! And you seemed to dread lest I seek to raise it! What, pray, can it conceal which can affect a mother’s heart more than the dire suspicions to which you abandon me? The more I think of your friendship, of your indulgence, the more are my torments redoubled: twenty times, since yesterday, have I tried to escape from this cruel uncertainty, and to beg you to let me know all, without considering my feelings and without reserve; and each time I shuddered with dread, when I remembered the prayer you made me not to question you. Finally, I decide upon a course which still leaves me some hope; and I depend upon your friendship not to refuse me what I ask; it is to answer me whether I have, to a certain extent, understood what you might have to tell me; not to be afraid to let me know all that maternal indulgence can forgive, and which it may not be impossible to repair. If my misfortunes exceed this measure, then, indeed, I consent to leave you to explain yourself by silence alone; here then is what I know already, and the point to which my fears extend.

My daughter has shown that she had a certain inclination for the Chevalier Danceny, and I have been informed that she has gone so far as to receive letters from him, and even to reply to them; but I believed I had succeeded in preventing this error of a child from having any dangerous consequences: today, when I dread everything, I can conceive that it may have been possible for my surveillance to have been deceived; and I fear that my misguided daughter may have set a seal upon her wrongdoing.

I recall to mind, again, several circumstances which lend weight to this fear. I told you that my daughter was taken ill at the news of M. de Valmont’s misfortune; perhaps this sensitiveness was merely due to her thought of the risks M. Danceny had run in this combat. Afterward, when she shed so many tears on learning all that was said of Madame de Merteuil, perhaps what I thought to be the grief of friendship was but the effect of jealousy, or of regret at finding her lover to be unfaithful. Her latest course may again, it seems to me, be explained by the same motive. It often happens that one believes oneself called to God, only because one has revolted against men. Finally, supposing these facts to be true, and that you have been informed of them, you may have found them sufficient to justify the rigorous counsel you gave me.

However, if this be so, while blaming my daughter, I should still believe it my duty to try every means to save her from the torments and dangers of an illusory and transient vocation.kc If M. Danceny is not lost to every sentiment of honor, he will not refuse to repair a wrong of which he is the sole author, and I am entitled to believe that a marriage with my daughter is sufficiently advantageous to gratify him, as well as his family.

This, my dear and revered friend, is the one hope remaining to me; hasten to confirm it, if you can. You may judge how desirous I am that you should reply to me, and what a terrible blow your silence would inflict.kd

I was about to close my letter, when a gentleman of my acquaintance came to see me, and related the cruel scene which Madame de Merteuil underwent the day before yesterday. As I have seen nobody for the last few days, I knew nothing of this adventure; here is the relation of it, as I have it from an eyewitness:

Madame de Merteuil, on her return from the country on Thursday, alighted at the Italian Comedy, where she had her box; she was alone in it, and, what must have seemed most extraordinary to her, no gentleman of her acquaintance presented himself during the performance. At the close, she entered the withdrawing room, as was her custom; it was already crowded; a hum was raised immediately, but apparently she was not aware that she was the object of it. She saw a vacant place on one of the benches, and went and sat there; but at once all the women who were there before her rose, as if in concert, and left her absolutely alone. This marked sign of general indignation was applauded by all the men, and the murmurs, which even amounted, it is said, to hooting, were redoubled.

That nothing might be lacking to her humiliation, her ill luck had it that M. de Prévan, who had shown himself nowhere since his adventure, should enter the withdrawing room that same moment. As soon as he was recognized, everybody, men and women, surrounded and applauded him; and he was carried, so to speak, in face of Madame de Merteuil by the crowd, which made a circle round them. I was assured that Madame de Merteuil preserved an appearance of seeing and hearing nothing, and that she did not change her expression! But I think this fact exaggerated. Be that as it may, this truly ignominious situation lasted until her carriage was announced; and, at her departure, the scandalous hooting was redoubled. It is fearful to be related to such a woman. M. de Prévan met with a great reception the same evening from all the officers of his regiment who were present, and there is no doubt but that he will shortly regain his rank and employment.

The same person who gave me these details told me that Madame de Merteuil was seized the following night with a violent fever, which was at first thought to be the effect of the terrible situation in which she had been placed; but it became known yesterday that confluent smallpoxke had declared itself, of a very dangerous kind. Truly, it would be a piece of good fortune for her if she were to die of it. They say, further, that all this adventure will damage her case, which is on the point of being tried, and in which they assert that she had need of much favor.

Adieu, my dear and revered friend. I see the wicked punished in all this; but I find no consolation in it for their unfortunate victims.