Dangerous Liaisons —63—


INDEED, YES, I WILL explain Danceny’s letter to you. The incident which caused him to write it is my handiwork, and it is, I think, my chef-d’oeuvre. I wasted no time since your last letter, and I said with the Athenian architect, “What he has said, I will do.”

It is obstacles then that this fine hero of romance needs, and he slumbers in felicity! Oh, let him look to me, I will give him some work: and if his slumber is going to be peaceful any longer, I am mistaken. Indeed, he had to be taught the value of time, and I flatter myself that by now he is regretting all he has lost. It were well also, said you, that he had need of more mystery: well, that need won’t be lacking him now. I have this quality, I—that my mistakes have only to be pointed out to me; then I take no repose until I have retrieved them. Let me tell you now what I did.

When I returned home in the morning of the day before yesterday, I read your letter; I found it luminous. Convinced that you had put your finger on the cause of the evil, my sole concern now was to find a means of curing it. I commenced, however, by retiring to bed; for the indefatigable Chevalier had not let me sleep a moment, and I thought I was sleepy: but not at all; absorbed in Danceny, my desire to cure him of his indolence, or to punish him for it, did not let me close an eye, and it was only after I had thoroughly completed my plan, that I could take two hours’ rest.

I went that same evening to Madame de Volanges, and, according to my project, I told her confidentially that I felt sure a dangerous acquaintance existed between her daughter and Danceny. This woman, who sees so clearly in your case, was so blind that she answered me at first that I was certainly mistaken, that her daughter was a child, etc., etc. I could not tell her all I knew; but I quoted certain looks and remarks whereat my virtue and my friendship had taken alarm. In short, I spoke almost as well as a devote would have done; and to strike the decisive blow, I went so far as to say that I thought I had seen a letter given and received. “That reminds me,” I added, “one day she opened before me a drawer in her desk in which I saw a number of papers, which she doubtless preserves. Do you know if she has any frequent correspondence?” Here Madame de Volanges’ face changed, and I saw some tears rise to her eyes. “I thank you, my kind friend,” she said, as she pressed my hand; “I will clear this up.”

After this conversation, which was too short to excite suspicion, I went over to the young person. I left her soon afterward, to beg her mother not to compromise me in her daughter’s eyes; she promised me this the more willingly, when I pointed out to her how fortunate it would be if the child were to take sufficient confidence in me to open her heart to me, and thus afford me the occasion of giving her my wise counsels. I feel certain that she will keep her promise, because she will doubtless seek to vaunt her penetration in her daughter’s eyes. Thus I am authorized to maintain my friendly tone toward the child, without seeming false to Madame de Volanges, which I wished to avoid. I have also gained for the future the right to be as long and as privately as I like with the young person, without the mother being able to take umbrage.

I took advantage of this, that very evening; and when my game was over, I took the child aside in a corner, and set her on the subject of Danceny, upon which she is inexhaustible. I amused myself by exciting her with the pleasure she will have when she sees him tomorrow; there is no kind of folly that I did not make her say. I needs must restore to her in hope what I had deprived her of in reality; and besides, all that ought to render the blow more forcible, and I am persuaded that, the more she suffers, the greater will be her haste to compensate herself for it, on the next occasion. ’Tis wise, moreover, to accustom to great events anyone whom one destines for great adventures.

After all, may she not pay for the pleasure of having her Danceny with a few tears? She dotes on him! Well, I promise her that she shall have him, and even sooner than she would have done, but for this storm. It is like a bad dream, the awakening from which will be delicious; and, considering all, I think she owes me gratitude: after all, if I have put a spice of malice into it, one must amuse oneself:

The fool provides light pastime for the wise.df

I withdrew at last, thoroughly satisfied with myself. Either, said I to myself, Danceny’s love, excited by obstacles, will redouble in intensity, and then I shall serve him with all my power; or, if he is nothing but a fool, as I am sometimes tempted to believe, he will be in despair, and will look upon himself as beaten: now, in that case, I shall at least have been as well avenged on him as he has been on me; on my way, I shall have increased the mother’s esteem for me, the daughter’s friendship, and the confidence of both. As for Gercourt, the first object of my care, I should be very unlucky, or very clumsy, if, mistress over his bride’s mind, as I am, and as I intend to be even more, I did not find a thousand ways of making him what I mean him to be. I went to bed with these pleasant thoughts: I slept well, too, and awoke very late.

On my awakening I found two letters, one from the mother and one from the daughter; and I could not refrain from laughing when I encountered, in both, literally this same phrase: “It is from you alone that I expect any consolation.” Is it not amusing to console for and against, and to be the single agent of two directly contrary interests? Behold me, like the Divinity, receiving the diverse petitions of blind mortals, and altering nothing in my immutable decrees. I have deserted that august part, however, to assume that of the consoling angel; and have been, as the precept bids us, to visit my friends in their affliction.

I began with the mother; I found her wrapped in a sadness which already avenges you in part for the obstacles she has thrown in your way, on the side of your fair prude. Everything has succeeded marvelously, and my only anxiety was lest Madame de Volanges should take advantage of the moment to gain her daughter’s confidence: which would have been quite easy, had she employed with her the language of kindness and affection, and given to reasonable counsels the air and tone of indulgent tenderness. Luckily she had armed herself with severity; in short, she had behaved so unwisely that I could only applaud. It is true that she thought of frustrating all our schemes, by the course which she had resolved on of sending her daughter back to the convent: but I warded off this blow, and induced her merely to make a threat of it, in the event of Danceny continuing his pursuit; this in order to compel both to a circumspection which I believe necessary to success.

I next went to the daughter. You would not believe how grief improves her! If she does but take to coquetry, I warrant that she will be often weeping; but this time she wept in all sincerity…. Struck by this new charm, which I had not known in her, and which I was very pleased to observe, I gave her at first but clumsy consolations, which rather increased her sorrow than assuaged it; and by this means I brought her well nigh to choking point. She wept no more, and for a moment I was afraid of convulsions. I advised her to go to bed, to which she agreed; I served her for waiting maid: she had made no toilette, and soon her disheveled hair was falling over her shoulders and bosom, which were entirely bare; I embraced her; she abandoned herself in my arms, and her tears began to flow again without an effort. Lord! how beautiful she was! Ah, if the Magdalen was like that, she must have been far more dangerous in her penitence than when she sinned.

When the disconsolate fair one was in bed, I started to console her in good faith. I first reassured her as to her fear about the convent. I excited a hope in her of seeing Danceny in secret; and sitting upon the bed: “If he was here,” said I; then, embroidering on this theme, I led her from distraction to distraction, until she had quite forgotten her affliction. We should have separated in a complete satisfaction with one another, if she had not wished to charge me with a letter to Danceny; which I consistently refused. Here are my reasons for this, which you will doubtless approve:

To begin with, it would have been to compromise myself openly with Danceny; and though this was the only reason I could employ with the little one, there are plenty of others which hold between you and me. Would it not have been to risk the fruit of my labors to give our young people so soon a means so easy of lightening their pains? And then, I should not be sorry to compel them to introduce some servants into this adventure; for, if it is to work out well, which is what I hope for, it must become known immediately after the marriage, and there are few surer methods of publishing it. Or if, by a miracle, the servants were not to speak, we would speak ourselves, and it will be more convenient to lay the indiscretion to their account.

You must give this idea, then, today to Danceny; and as I am not sure of the waiting maid of the little Volanges, and she seems to distrust her herself, suggest my own to him, my faithful Victoire. I will take care that the enterprise is successful. This idea pleases me all the more, as the confidence will only be useful to us and not to them: for I am not at the end of my story.

While I was excusing myself from carrying the child’s letter, I was afraid every moment that she would suggest that I should send it by the post, which I could hardly have refused to do. Luckily, either in her confusion or in her ignorance, or again because she was less set on her letter than on a reply to it, which she could not have obtained by this means, she did not speak of it to me; but, to prevent this idea coming to her, or at least her being able to use it, I made up my mind on the spot; and on returning to her mother, persuaded her to send her daughter away for some time, to take her to the country…. And where? Does not your heart beat with joy? … To your Aunt, to the old Rosemonde. She is to apprise her of it today; so, behold you authorized to return to your Puritan, who will no longer be able to reproach you with the scandal of a tête-à-tête; and thanks to my pains, Madame de Volanges will herself repair the wrong she had done you.

But listen to me, and do not be so constantly wrapped up in your own affairs as to lose sight of this one; remember that I am interested in it. I want you to become the go-between and counselor of the two young people. Inform Danceny of this journey and offer him your services. Find no difficulty, except as to getting your letter of credit into the fair one’s hands; and demolish this obstacle on the spot by suggesting to him the services of my waiting maid. There is no doubt but that he will accept; and you will have, as reward for your trouble, the confidence of a young heart, which is always interesting. Poor child, how she will blush when she hands you her first letter! In truth, this rôle of confidant, against which a sort of prejudice has grown up, seems to me a very pretty relaxation, when you are occupied elsewhere; and that is the case in which you will be.

It is upon your attention that the denouement of this intrigue will depend. Judge the moment when the actors must be reunited. The country offers a thousand ways; and Danceny cannot fail to be ready at your first signal. A night, a disguise, a window … what do I know? But mark me, if the little girl comes back as she went away, I shall quarrel with you. If you consider that she has need of any encouragement from me, send word to me. I think I have given her such a good lesson on the danger of keeping letters, that I may venture to write to her now; and I still cherish the design of making her my pupil.

I believe I forgot to tell you that her suspicions with regard to the surprised correspondence fell at first upon her waiting maid, but that I turned them toward the confessor. That was a way of killing two birds with one stone.

Adieu, Vicomte, I have been writing to you a long time now, and my dinner is the later for it: but self-love and friendship dictated my letter, and both are garrulous. For the rest, it will be with you by three o’clock, and that is all you need.

Pity me now, if you dare; and go and visit the woods of the Comte de B—, if they tempt you. You say that he keeps them for the pleasure of his friends! Is the man a friend of all the world then? But adieu, I am hungry.