Dangerous Liaisons —44—


JOIN IN MY JOY, my lovely friend; I am beloved, I have triumphed over that rebellious heart. ’Tis in vain that it still dissimulates; my fortunate skill has surprised its secret. Thanks to my energetic pains, I know all that is of interest to me: since the night, the fortunate night of yesterday, I am once more in my element; I have resumed my existence; I have unveiled a double mystery of love and iniquity:cd I will delight in the one, I will avenge myself for the other; I will fly from pleasure to pleasure. The mere idea that I form of it transports me to such a degree that I have some difficulty in recalling my prudence; and shall have some, perhaps, in putting order into this narrative which I make for you. Let us try, however.

Yesterday, after I had written my letter to you, I received one from the celestial devote. I send it you; you will see in it that she gives me, with as little clumsiness as is possible, permission to write to her: but she urges on my departure; and I quite felt that I could not defer it too long without injuring myself.

Tormented, however, by the desire to know who could have written against me, I was still uncertain as to what course I should take. I tried to win over the chambermaid, and would fain persuade her to give up to me her mistress’s pockets, which she could have easily laid hold of in the evening, and which she could have replaced in the morning, without exciting the least suspicion. I offered ten louis for this slight service: but I only found a baggage, scrupulous or afraid, whom neither my eloquence nor my money could vanquish. I was still preaching to her when the supper bell rang. I was forced to leave her; only too glad that she was willing to promise me secrecy, on which you may judge I scarcely counted.

I had never been in a worse humor. I felt myself compromised, and I reproached myself all the evening for my foolish attempt.

When I had retired, not without anxiety, I sent for my chasseur, who, in his quality of happy lover, ought to have some credit. I wanted him either to persuade this girl to do what I had asked of her, or at least to make sure of her discretion; but he, who ordinarily is afraid of nothing, seemed doubtful of the success of the negotiation, and made a reflection on the subject the profundity of which amazed me.

“Monsieur surely knows better than I,” said he, “that to lie with a girl is only to make her do what she likes to do: from that to making her do what we like is often a long way.”

The fellow’s good sense sometimes strikes me dumb. ce

“I can the less answer for her,” he added, “because I have reason to believe she has a lover, and that I only owe her to the idleness of country life. So that, were it not for my zeal in Monsieur’s service, I should not have had her but once.” (He is a real treasure, this fellow !) “As for secrecy,” he went on, “what will be the good of making her promise it, since she will run no risk in deceiving us? To speak again to her about it would only be to let her know that it was important, and thus make her all the more eager to use it for making up to her mistress.”

The more just these reflections seemed to me, the more was my embarrassment heightened. Luckily the knave was started off to gossip; and as I had need of him, I let him run on. While he was relating to me his adventures with this wench, I learned that, as the chamber which she occupied was only separated from that of her mistress by a bare partition, through which any suspicious noise could be heard, it was in his own that they met every night. At once, I formed my plan; I communicated it to him, and we carried it out with success.

I waited until two o’clock in the morning; and then betook myself, as we had agreed, to the scene of the rendezvous, carrying a light with me, and pretending that I had rung several times to no purpose. My confidant, who plays his parts to a marvel, went through a little scene of surprise, despair, and excuses, which I terminated by sending him to heat me some water, of which I feigned to have a need; while the scrupulous chambermaid was all the more shamefaced, in that my rascal, wishing to improve on my projects, had induced her to make a toilette which the season suggested but did not excuse.cf

As I felt that the more this wench was humiliated, the more easily I should dispose of her, I allowed her to change neither her position nor her costume; and after ordering my valet to await me in my room, I sat down beside her on the bed, which was in great disorder, and commenced my conversation. I had need to maintain the control which the situation gave me over her; thus I preserved a coolness which would have done honor to the continence of Scipio;16 and without taking the slightest liberty with her—which, however, her freshness and the opportunity seemed to give her the right to expect—I spoke of business to her as calmly as I should have done with a lawyer.

My conditions were that I would faithfully keep her secret, provided that, on the morrow, at about the same hour, she would hand me the pockets of her mistress. “Beside that,” I added, “I offered you ten louis yesterday; I promise you them again today. I do not want to take advantage of your situation.” Everything was granted, as you may well believe; I then withdrew, and allowed the happy couple to make up for lost time.

I spent mine in sleep; and, on my awakening, desiring to have a pretext for not replying to my fair one’s letter before I had investigated her papers, which I could not do until the ensuing night, I resolved to go out shooting, which I did for the greater part of the day.

On my return, I was received coldly enough. I had a mind to believe that we were a little offended at the small zeal I had shown in not profiting by the time that was left, especially after the much kinder letter which she had written me. I judge so from the fact that, Madame de Rosemonde having addressed me some reproaches for this long absence, my beauty remarked with a tone of acrimony, “Ah! do not let us reproach M. de Valmont for giving himself up to the one pleasure which he can find here.” I murmured at this injustice, and took advantage of it to vow that I took so much pleasure in the ladies’ society that I was sacrificing for them a most interesting letter which I had to write. I added that, being unable to sleep for some nights past, I had wished to try if fatigue would restore it me; and my eyes were sufficiently explicit, both as to the subject of my letter and the cause of my insomnia. I was at the pains to wear all that evening a manner of melancholy sweetness, which seemed to sit on me well enough, and which masked the impatience I was in to see the hour arrive which was to deliver me the secret so obstinately withheld from me. At last we separated, and, some time afterwards, the faithful chambermaid came to bring me the price agreed upon for my discretion.

Once master of this treasure, I proceeded to the inventory with that prudence which you know I possess: for it was important to put back everything in its place. I fell at first upon two letters from the husband—an undigested mixture of details of lawsuits and effusions of conjugal love, which I had the patience to read in their entirety, and where I found no word that had any relation to myself. I replaced them with temper: but this was soothed when my hand lighted upon the pieces of my famous Dijon letter, carefully put together. Luckily the whim seized me to run through it. Judge of my joy when I perceived very distinct traces of my adorable dévote’s tears. I confess, I gave way to an impulse of youth, and kissed this letter with a transport of which I had not believed myself any longer capable. I continued my happy examination; I found all my letters in sequence and order of date; and what gave me a still more agreeable surprise was to find the first of all, the one which I thought the graceless creature had returned to me, faithfully copied by her hand, and in an altered and tremulous hand, ample witness to the soft perturbation of her heart during that employment.

Thus far I was entirely given over to love; soon it gave place to fury. Who do you think it is, that wishes to ruin me in the eyes of the woman whom I adore? What Fury do you suppose is vile enough to plot such a black scheme?17 You know her: it is your friend, your kinswoman; it is Madame de Volanges. You cannot imagine what a tissue of horrors this infernal Megæra has written concerning me. It is she, she alone, who has troubled the security of this angelic woman; it is through her counsels, through her pernicious advice, that I see myself forced to leave; it is she, in short, who has sacrificed me. Ah! without a doubt her daughter must be seduced: but that is not enough, she must be ruined; and, since this cursed woman’s age puts her beyond the reach of my assaults, she must be hit in the object of her affections.

So she wishes me to come back to Paris! she forces me to it! be it so, I will go back; but she shall bewail my return. I am annoyed that Danceny is the hero of that adventure; he possesses a fundamental honesty which will embarrass us: however, he is in love, and I see him often; perhaps one may make use of him. I am losing sight of myself in my anger, and forgetting that I owe you an account of what has passed today. To resume.

This morning I saw my sensitive prude again. Never had I found her so lovely. It must ever be so: a woman’s loveliest moment, the only one when she can produce that intoxication of the soul of which we speak so constantly and which we so rarely meet, is that one when, assured of her love, we are not yet of her favors; and that is precisely the case in which I found myself now. Perhaps too, the idea that I was going to be deprived of the pleasure of seeing her served to beautify her. Finally, with the arrival of the postman, I was handed your letter of the 27th; and while I read it, I was still hesitating as to whether I should keep my word: but I met my beauty’s eyes, and it would have been impossible to me to refuse her aught.

I then announced my departure. A moment later, Madame de Rosemonde left us alone: but I was still four paces away from the coy creature when, rising with an affrighted air: “Leave me, leave me, Monsieur,” she said; “in God’s name, leave me.”

This fervent prayer, which betrayed her emotion, could not but animate me the more. I was already at her side, and I held her hands which she had joined together with a quite touching expression; I was beginning some tender complaints, when some hostile demon brought back Madame de Rosemonde. The timid devote, who had, in truth, some cause for fear, took advantage of this to withdraw.

I offered her my hand, however, which she accepted; and auguring well from this mildness, which she had not shown for a long time, I sought to press hers, while again commencing my complaints. At first she would fain withdraw it; but at my more lively insistence, she abandoned it with a good grace, although without replying either to the gesture or to my remarks. Arrived before the door of her apartment, I wished to kiss this hand, before I dropped it. The defense began by being hearty: but a “remember that I am going away,” uttered most tenderly, rendered it awkward and inefficient. Hardly had the kiss been given, when the hand found strength enough to escape, and the fair one entered her apartment, where her chambermaid was in attendance. Here finishes my history.

As I presume that tomorrow you will be at the Maréchale’s,18 where I certainly shall not go to look for you; as I think it very likely too that, at our first interview, we shall have more than one affair to discuss, and notably that of the little Volanges, whom I do not lose sight of, I have decided to have myself preceded by this letter, and, long as it is, I shall not close it, until the moment comes for sending it to the post: for, at the point which I have reached, everything may depend on an opportunity, and I leave you now to see if there be one.

P.S. Eight o’clock in the evening.

Nothing fresh; not the least little moment of liberty: care taken even to avoid it. However, at least as much sorrow shown as decency permits. Another incident which cannot be without consequences is that I am charged by Madame de Rosemonde with an invitation to Madame de Volanges to come and spend some time with her in the country.

Adieu, my lovely friend; until tomorrow, or the day after, at the latest.