Dangerous Liaisons —35—


I MUST NEEDS OBEY you, Madame; I must prove to you that, in the midst of the faults which you are pleased to ascribe to me, there is left me at least enough delicacy not to permit myself a reproach, and enough courage to impose on myself the most grievous sacrifices. You order me to be silent and to forget! Well! I will force my love to be silent; and I will forget, if that be possible, the cruel manner in which you have met it. Doubtless my desire to please you did not bear with it the right; and more, I confess that the need I had of your indulgence was not a title to obtain it: but you look upon my love as an outrage; you forget that if it could be a wrong, you would be at once its cause and its excuse.

You forget also, that, accustomed to open my soul to you, even when that confidence might hurt me, it was impossible for me to conceal from you the sentiments by which I was penetrated; and that which was the result of my good faith you consider as the fruit of my audacity. As a reward for the most tender, the most respectful, the truest love, you cast me afar from you. You speak to me, lastly, of your hatred…. What other than myself would not complain at being so treated? I alone submit; I support it all, and murmur not; you strike, and I adore. The inconceivable power which you have over me renders you absolute mistress of my feelings; and if only my love resists you, if you cannot destroy that, it is because it is your work and not my own.

I do not ask for a love which I never flattered myself I should receive. I do not even ask for that pity for which the interest you had sometimes displayed in me might have allowed me to hope. But, I admit, I think I can count on your sense of justice.

You inform me, Madame, that people have sought to damage me in your opinion. If you had believed the counsels of your friends, you would not even have let me approach you: those are your expressions. Who then are these officious friends? No doubt those people of such severity, and of so rigid a virtue, consent to be named; no doubt they would not cover themselves in an obscurity which would confound them with vile calumniators; and I shall not be left ignorant either of their names or of their accusations. Reflect, Madame, that I have the right to know both, since it is after them you judge me. One does not condemn a culprit without telling him his crime, and naming his accusers. I ask no other favor, and I promise in advance to justify myself, and to force them to retract.

If I have, perhaps, too much despised the vain clamors of a public of which I make so little case, it is not thus with your esteem; and when I devote my life to meriting that, I shall not let it be ravished from me with impunity. It becomes all the more precious to me, in that I shall owe to it doubtless that request which you fear to make me, and which would give me, you say, rights to your gratitude. Ah! far from exacting it, I shall believe myself your debtor, if you procure me the occasion of being agreeable to you. Begin then to do me greater justice by not leaving me in ignorance of what you desire of me. If I could guess it, I would spare you the trouble of saying it. To the pleasure of seeing you, add the happiness of serving you, and I will congratulate myself on your indulgence. What then can prevent you? It is not, I hope, the fear of a refusal: I feel that I could not pardon you that. It is no refusal that I do not return you your letter. More than you do I desire that it be no longer necessary to me: but accustomed as I am to believing in the gentleness of your soul, it is only in that letter that I can find you such as you would appear. When I frame the vow to render you less hard, I see there that, rather than consent, you would place yourself a hundred leagues away from me; when everything in you augments and justifies my love, it is that still which repeats to me that my love is an outrage to you; and when, seeing you, that love seems to me the supreme good, I needs must read you to feel that it is but a fearful torture. You can imagine now that my greatest happiness would be to be able to return you this fatal letter: to ask me for it now would be to authorize me to believe no longer what it contains; you do not doubt, I hope, of my eagerness to return it to you.