Dangerous Liaisons —70—


I HAVE AN IMPORTANT warning to give you, my dear friend. As you know, I supped yesterday with the Maréchale de — : you were spoken of, and I said, not all the good which I think, but all that which I do not think. Everyone appeared to be of my opinion, and the conversation languished, as ever happens when one says only good of one’s neighbor, when a voice was raised in contradiction: it was Prévan’s.

“Heaven forbid,” he said, rising, “that I should doubt the virtue of Madame de Merteuil! But I would dare believe that she owes it more to her lightness of character than to her principles. It is perhaps more difficult to follow her than to please her; and, as one rarely fails, when one runs after a woman, to meet others on the way; as, after all, these others may be as good as she is, or better; some are distracted by a fresh fancy, others stop short from lassitude doand she is, perhaps, the woman in all Paris who has had least cause to defend herself. As for me,” he added, encouraged by the smile of some of the women, “I shall not believe in Madame de Merteuil’s virtue, until I have killed six horses in paying my court to her.”

This ill-natured joke succeeded, as do all those which savor of scandal; and, during the laugh which it excited, Prévan resumed his place, and the general conversation changed. But the two Comtesses de B—, by the side of whom our skeptic sat, had a private conversation with him, which luckily I was in a position to overhear.

The challenge to render you susceptible was accepted; word was pledged that everything was to be told: and of all the pledges that might be given in this adventure, this one would assuredly be the most religiously kept. But there you are, forewarned, and you know the proverb.

It remains for me to tell you that this Prévan, whom you do not know, is infinitely amiable, and even more adroit. If you have sometimes heard me declare the contrary, it is only that I do not like him, that it is my pleasure to thwart his success, and that I am not ignorant of the weight of my suffragedp with thirty or so of our most fashionable women. In fact, I prevented him for long, by this means, from appearing on what we call the great scene; and he did prodigies,dq without for that winning any more reputation. But the fame of his triple adventure, by turning people’s eyes on him, gave him that confidence which hitherto he had lacked, and which has rendered him really formidable. He is, in short, today perhaps the only man whom I should fear to meet in my path; and, apart from your own interest, you will be rendering me a real service by making him appear ridiculous by the way. I leave him in good hands, and I cherish the hope that, on my return, he will be a ruined man.

I promise, in revenge, to carry through the adventure of your pupil, and to concern yourself as much with her as with my fair prude.

The latter has just sent me a letter of capitulation. The whole letter announces her desire to be deceived. It is impossible to suggest a method more timeworn or more easy. She wishes me to become her friend. But I, who love new and difficult methods, do not mean to cry quits with her so cheaply; and I most certainly should not have been at such pains with her, to conclude with an ordinary seduction.

What I propose, on the contrary, is that she should feel, and feel thoroughly, the value of each one of the sacrifices she shall make me; not to lead her too swiftly for remorse not to follow her; to let her virtue expire in a slow agony; to concentrate her, unceasingly, upon the heartbreaking spectacle; and only to grant her the happiness of having me in her arms, after compelling her no longer to dissimulate her desire. In truth, I am of little worth indeed, if I am not worth the trouble of asking for. And can I take a less revenge for the haughtiness of a woman who seems to blush to confess that she adores?

I have, therefore, refused the precious friendship, and have held to my title of lover. As I do not deny that this title, which seems at first no more than a verbal quibble, is, however, of real importance to obtain, I have taken a great deal of pains with my letter, and endeavored to be lavish of that disorder which alone can depict sentiment. I have, in short, been as irrational as it was possible for me to be: for, without one be irrational, there is no tenderness; and it is for this reason, I believe, that women are so much our superiors in love letters.

I concluded mine with a piece of cajolery;dr and that is another result of my profound observation. After a woman’s heart has been for some time exercised, it has need of repose; and I have remarked that cajolery was, to all, the softest pillow that could be offered.

Adieu, my lovely friend; I leave tomorrow. If you have any commands to give me for the Comtesse de —, I will halt at her house, at any rate for dinner. I am vexed to leave without seeing you. Send me your sublime instructions, and aid me with your wise counsels, in this critical moment.

Above all, defend yourself against Prévan; and grant that I may make amends to you one day for the sacrifice! Adieu.