Dangerous Liaisons —71—


MY IDIOT OF A chasseur has left my letter case in Paris! My fair one’s letters, those of Danceny to the little Volanges: all have remained behind, and I have need of all. He is going off to repair his stupidity; and while he is saddling his horse, I will tell you my night’s story: for I beg you to believe I do not waste my time.

The adventure in itself is but a small thing; a réchaufféds with the Vicomtesse de M—. But it interested me in its details. I am delighted, moreover, to let you see that, if I have a talent for ruining women, I have nonetheless, when I wish it, that of saving them. The most difficult course or the merriest is the one I choose; and I never reproach myself for a good action, provided that it has kept me in practice or amused me.

I found the Vicomtesse here, and as she joined her entreaties to the persecutions with which they would make me pass the night at the château: “Well, I consent,” I said to her, “on condition that I pass it with you.” “That is impossible,” she answered: “Vressac is here.” So far, I had but meant to say the polite thing to her; but the word impossible revolted me as usual. I felt humiliated at being sacrificed to Vressac, and I resolved not to suffer it; I insisted therefore.

Circumstances were not favorable to me. This Vressac had been awkward enough to give offense to the Vicomte; so much so that the Vicomtesse can no longer receive him at home, and this visit to the good Comtesse had been arranged between them, in order to try and snatch a few nights. The Vicomte had at first even shown signs of ill humor at meeting Vressac there; but, as his love of sport is even stronger than his jealousy, he stayed nonetheless: and the Comtesse, always the same as you know her, after lodging the wife in the great corridor, put the husband on one side and the lover on the other, and left them to arrange things among themselves. The evil destiny of both willed that I should be housed opposite them.

That very day, that is to say, yesterday, Vressac, who, as you will well believe, cajolesdt the Vicomte, went out shooting with him in spite of his distaste for sport, and quite counted on consoling himself at night in the wife’s arms for the ennui which the husband caused him all day: but I judged that he would have need of repose, and busied myself with the means of persuading his mistress to give him the time to take it.

I succeeded, and persuaded her to pick a quarrel with him concerning that very same shooting party to which, very obviously, he had only consented for her sake. She could not have chosen a more sorry pretext; but no woman is better endowed than the Vicomtesse with that talent, common to all women, of putting ill humor in the place of reason, and of being never so difficult to appease as when she is in the wrong. Neither was the moment convenient for explanations; and, as I only wished her for one night, I consented to their reconciliation on the morrow.

Vressac was greeted sullenly on his return. He sought to demand the cause; he was abused. He tried to justify himself; the husband, who was present, served for a pretext to break off the conversation; finally, he attempted to take advantage of a moment when the husband was absent, to ask that she would be kind enough to listen to him that night: it was then that the Vicomtesse became sublime. She declaimed against the audacity of men who, because they have experienced a woman’s favors, suppose that they have the right to abuse her, even when she has cause of complaint against them; and, having thus skillfully changed the issue, she talked sentiment and delicacy so well that Vressac grew dumb and confused, and I myself was tempted to believe that she was right: for you must know that, as a friend of both of them, I made a third at this conversation.

In the end, she declared positively that she would not add the fatigues of love to those of the chase, and that she would reproach herself were she to disturb such sweet pleasures. The husband returned. The disconsolate Vressac, who was no longer at liberty to reply, addressed himself to me; and, having, at great length, expounded his reasons, which I knew as well as he, he begged me to speak to the Vicomtesse, and I promised him to do so. I spoke to her, in effect; but it was in order to thank her, and to arrange the hour and manner of our rendezvous.

She told me that, situated as she was between her husband and her lover, she had thought it more prudent to go to Vressac than to receive him in her apartment; and that, since I was placed opposite her, she thought it was safer also to come to me; that she would repair to my room as soon as her waiting maid had left her alone; that I had only to leave my door ajar and await her.

Everything was carried out as we had arranged; and she came to my room about one o’clock in the morning,

“In just such plain array,

As beauty wears when fresh from slumber’s sway.”du

As I am quite without vanity, I will not go into the details of the night; but you know me, and I was satisfied with myself.

At daybreak, we had to separate. It is here that the interest begins. The imprudent woman had thought to have left her door ajar; we found it shut, and the key was left inside. You have no idea of the expression of despair, with which the Vicomtesse said to me at once: “Ah, I am lost!” You must admit it would have been amusing to have left her in this situation: but could I suffer a woman to be ruined for me who had not been ruined by me? And should I, like the commonalty of men, let myself be overcome by circumstances? A method had to be found therefore. What would you have done, my fair friend? Hear what was my conduct; it was successful.

I soon realized that the door in question could be burst in, on condition that one made a mighty amount of noise. I persuaded the Vicomtesse, therefore, not without difficulty, to utter some piercing cries of terror, such as thieves, murder, etc., etc. And we arranged that, at the first cry, I should break in the door, and she should rush to her bed. You would not believe how much time it needed to decide her, even after she had consented. However, it had to be done that way, and at my first kick the door yielded. The Vicomtesse did well not to lose time; for, at the same instant, the Vicomte and Vressac were in the corridor, and the waiting maid had also run up to her mistress’s chamber. I alone kept my coolness, and I profited by it to go and extinguish a night-light which still burned, and throw it to the ground, for you can imagine how ridiculous it would have been to feign this panic terror with a light in one’s room. I then took husband and lover to task for their sluggish sleep, assuring them that the cries, at which I had run up, and my efforts to burst open the door, had lasted at least five minutes.

The Vicomtesse, who had regained her courage in bed, seconded me well enough, and swore by all her gods that there had been a thief in her chamber; she protested with all the more sincerity in that she had never had such a fright in her life. We searched everywhere and found nothing, when I pointed to the overturned night-light, and concluded that, without a doubt, a rat had caused the damage and the alarm; my opinion was accepted unanimously; and, after some well-worn pleasantries on the subject of rats, the Vicomte was the first to regain his chamber and his bed, praying his wife for the future to keep her rats quieter.

Vressac, who was left alone with us, approached the Vicomtesse to tell her tenderly that it was a vengeance of Love; to which she answered, glancing at me, “He was indeed angry then, for he has taken ample vengeance; but,” she added, “I am exhausted with fatigue and I want to sleep.”

I was in a good-humored moment; consequently, before we separated, I pleaded Vressac’s cause and effected a reconciliation. The two lovers embraced, and I, in my turn, was embraced by both. I had no more relish for the kisses of the Vicomtesse; but I confess that Vressac’s pleased me. We went out together; and after I had accepted his lengthy thanks, we both betook ourselves to bed.

If you find this history amusing, I do not ask you to keep it secret. Now that I have had my amusement out of it, it is but just that the public should have its turn. For the moment, I am only speaking of the story; perhaps, we shall soon say as much of the heroine.

Adieu! My chasseur has been waiting for an hour; I take only the time to embrace you, and to recommend you, above all, to beware of Prévan.