Dangerous Liaisons —36—


YOUR SEVERITY AUGMENTS DAILY, Madame; and, if I dare say it, you seem to be less afraid of being unjust than of being indulgent. After having condemned me without a hearing, you must have felt, in fact, that ’twere easier for you not to read my arguments than to reply to them. You refuse my letters obstinately; you send them back to me with contempt. You force me, at last, to have recourse to a ruse, at the very moment when my only aim is to convince you of my good faith. The necessity in which you have put me to defend myself will doubtless suffice to excuse my means. Convinced, moreover, by the sincerity of my sentiments that, to justify them in your eyes, it is sufficient merely that you should know them thoroughly, I thought that I might permit myself this slight artifice. I dare believe also that you will pardon me, and that you will be little surprised that love is more ingenious in presenting itself than indifference in repelling it.

Allow then, Madame, my heart to be entirely revealed to you. It belongs to you, and it is just that you should know it.

I was very far from foreseeing, when I arrived at Madame de Rosemonde’s, the fate which awaited me. I did not know that you were there, and I will add, with the sincerity which characterizes me, that, if I had known, my sense of security would not have been troubled: not that I did not render to your beauty the justice which one could not refuse it; but, accustomed as I was to feel only desires, and to yield myself only to those which were encouraged by hope, I did not know the torments of love.

You were a witness of the efforts which Madame de Rosemonde made to keep me for some time. I had already passed one day with you, and yet I yielded, or at least believed that I yielded, only to the pleasure, so natural and so legitimate, of showing respect to a worthy relative. The kind of life which one led here doubtless differed greatly from that to which I was accustomed; it cost me nothing to conform to it; and, without seeking to penetrate into the cause of the change which was operating within me, I attributed it as yet solely to that easygoing character of which I believe I have already spoken to you.

Unfortunately (yet why need it be a misfortune?), coming to know you better, I soon discovered that that bewitching face, which alone had struck me, was but the least of your attractions; your heavenly soul astonished and seduced my own. I admired the beauty, I worshipped the virtue. Without pretending to win you, I bestirred myself to deserve you. In begging your indulgence for the past, I was ambitious of your support for the future. I sought for it in your utterance, I spied for it in your eyes, in that glance whence came a poison all the more dangerous in that it was distilled without design, and received without distrust.

Then I knew love. But how far was I from complaining! Determined to bury it in an eternal silence, I abandoned myself without fear, as without reserve, to this delicious sentiment. Each day augmented its sway. Soon the pleasure of seeing you was changed to a need. Were you absent for a moment? my heart was sore with sadness ; at the sound which announced your return, it palpitated with joy. I only existed for you and through you. Nevertheless, it is yourself whom I call to witness: in the merriment of our heedless sports or in the interest of a serious conversation, did ever one word escape me which could betray the secret of my heart?

At last a day arrived when my evil fortune was to commence; by an inconceivable fatality, a good deed was to be the signal for it. Yes, Madame, it was in the midst of those unfortunates whom I had succored that, abandoning yourself to that precious sensibility which embellishes even beauty and adds value to virtue, you completed your work of destroying a heart which was already intoxicated with excess of love. You will remember, perhaps, what a moodiness came over me on our return! Alas! I was seeking to fight against an affection which I felt was becoming stronger than myself.

It was after I had exhausted my strength in this unequal contest, that an unforeseen hazard made me find myself alone with you. There, I confess, I succumbed. My heart was too full, and could withhold neither its utterance nor its tears. But is this then a crime? and if it be one, is it not amply punished by the dire torments to which I am abandoned?

Devoured by a love without hope, I implore your pity and I meet only with your hate: with no other happiness than that of seeing you, my eyes seek you in spite of myself, and I tremble to meet your gaze. In the cruel state to which you have reduced me, I pass my days in dissimulating my grief and my nights in abandoning myself to it; while you, peaceful and calm, know of these torments only to cause them and to applaud yourself for them. Nonetheless, it is you who complain and I who make excuse.

That, however, Madame, is the faithful relation of what you call my injuries, which it would, perhaps, be more just to call my misfortunes. A pure and sincere love, a respect which has never be-lied itself, a perfect submission; such are the sentiments with which you have inspired me. I would not fear to present my homage of them to the Divinity Himself. O you, who are His fairest handiwork, imitate Him in His indulgence! Think on my cruel pains; think, above all, that, placed by you between despair and supreme felicity, the first word which you shall utter will forever decide my lot.