Dangerous Liaisons —34—


YOU SPEAK WITH PERFECT truth, my fair friend: but why put yourself to so much fatigue to prove what nobody disputes? To move fast in love, ’tis better to speak than to write; that is, I believe, the whole of your letter. Why, those are the most simple elements in the art of seduction! I will only remark that you make but one exception to this principle, and that there are two. To children, who walk in this way from shyness and yield themselves from ignorance, must be added the femmes beaux-esprits,brwho let themselves be enticed therein by self-conceit and whom vanity leads into the snare. For instance, I am quite sure that the Comtesse de B—, who answered my first letter without any difficulty, had, at that time, no more love for me than I for her, and that she only saw an occasion for treating a subject which should be worthy of her pen.

However that may be, an advocatebs will tell you that principles are not applicable to the question. In fact, you suppose that I have a choice between writing and speaking, which is not the case. Since the affair of the 19th, my fair barbarian, who keeps on the defensive, has shown a skill in avoiding interviews which has disconcerted my own. So much so that, if this continues, I shall be forced to occupy myself seriously with the means of regaining this advantage; for assuredly I will not be routed by her in any way. My letters even are the subject of a little war; not content with leaving them unanswered, she refuses to receive them. For each one a fresh artifice is necessary, and it does not always succeed.

You will remember by what a simple means I gave her the first; the second presented no more difficulty. She had asked me to return her letter; I gave her my own instead, without her having the least suspicion. But whether from vexation at having been caught, or from caprice or, in short, virtue, for she will force me to believe in it, she obstinately refused the third. I hope, however, that the embarrassment into which the consequence of this refusal has happened to throw her will correct her for the future.

I was not much surprised that she would not receive this letter, which I offered her quite simply; that would already have been to grant a certain favor, and I am prepared for a longer defense. After this essay, which was but an attempt made in passing, I put my letter in an envelope; and seizing the moment of the toilette, when Madame de Rosemonde and the chambermaid were present, I sent it her by my chasseur, with an order to tell her that it was the paper for which she had asked me. I had rightly guessed that she would dread the scandalous explanation which a refusal would necessitate: she took the letter; and my ambassador, who had received orders to observe her face, and who has good eyes, did but perceive a slight blush, and more embarrassment than anger.

I congratulated myself then, for sure, either that she would keep this letter, or that, if she wished to return it to me, it would be necessary for her to find herself alone with me, which would give me a good occasion to speak. About an hour afterward, one of her people entered my room, and handed me, on behalf of his mistress, a packet of another shape than mine, on the envelope of which I recognized the writing so greatly longed for. I opened it in haste…. It was my letter itself, the seal unbroken, merely folded in two. I suspect that her fear that I might be less scrupulous than herself on the subject of scandal had made her employ this devil’s ruse.

You know me: I need be at no pains to depict to you my fury. It was necessary, however, to regain one’s sang-froid,bt and seek for fresh methods. This is the only one that I found:

They send from here every morning to fetch the letters from the post, which is about three quarters of a league away: they employ for this purpose a box with a lid almost like an almsbox,buof which the postmaster has one key and Madame de Rosemonde the other. Everyone puts his letters in it during the day, when it seems good to him: in the evening they are carried to the post, and in the morning those which have arrived are sent for. All the servants, strange or otherwise, perform this service. It was not the turn of my servant; but he undertook to go, under the pretext that he had business in that direction.

Meantime I wrote my letter. I disguised my handwriting in the address, and I counterfeited with some skill upon the envelope the stamp of Dijon. I chose this town, because I found it merrier, since I was asking for the same rights as the husband, to write also from the same place, and also because my fair had spoken all day of the desire she had to receive letters from Dijon. It seemed to me only right to procure her this pleasure.

These precautions once taken, it was easy enough to add this letter to the others. I moreover succeeded by this expedient in being a witness of the reception; for the custom is to assemble for breakfast, and to wait for the arrival of the letters before separating. At last they came.

Madame de Rosemonde opened the box. “From Dijon,” she said, giving the letter to Madame de Tourvel.

“It is not my husband’s writing,” she answered in a troubled voice, hastily breaking the seal.

The first glance instructed her; and her face underwent such an alteration that Madame de Rosemonde perceived it, and asked, “What is the matter with you?”

I also drew near, saying, “Is this letter then so very dreadful?”

The shy dévote dared not raise her eyes; she said not a word; and, to hide her embarrassment, pretended to run over the epistle, which she was scarcely in a state to read. I enjoyed her confusion, and not being sorry to girdbv her a little, I added, “Your more tranquil air bids me hope that this letter has caused you more astonishment than pain.” Anger then inspired her better than prudence could have done.

“It contains,” she answered, “things which offend me, and that I am astounded anyone has dared to write to me.”

“Who has sent it?” interrupted Madame de Rosemonde.

“It is not signed,” answered the angry fair one; “but the letter and its author inspire me with equal contempt. You will oblige me by speaking no more of it.”

With that she tore up the audacious missive, put the pieces into her pocket, rose, and left the room.

In spite of this anger she has nonetheless had my letter; and I rely upon her curiosity to have taken care that she read it through.

The detailed relation of the day would take me too far. I add to this account the first draft of my two letters; you will thus be as fully informed as myself. If you want to be au courantbw with this correspondence, you must accustom yourself to deciphering my minutes ; for nothing in the world could I support the tedium of copying them. Adieu, my lovely friend!