Dangerous Liaisons —83—


FOR MERCY’S SAKE, MADAME, let us repeat that interview which was so unhappily broken! Oh, that I could complete my work of proving to you how much I differ from the odious portrait which has been made of me; that, above all, I could again enjoy that amiable confidence which you began to grant me! How many are the charms with which you know how to endow virtue! How you beautify, and render dear, every virtuous sentiment! Ah, therein lies your fascination; it is the strongest; it is the only one which is at once powerful and worthy of respect.

Doubtless, it is enough to see you to desire to please you; to hear you in company for that desire to be redoubled. But he who has the happiness of knowing you better, who can sometimes read in your soul, soon yields to a more noble enthusiasm, and, penetrated by veneration as by love, worships in you the image of all the virtues. Better made than another, perhaps, to love and follow them, although seduced by certain errors which had separated me from them, it is you who have brought me back, who have caused me to feel anew all their charm: will you make a crime of this new love of mine? Will you blame your handiwork? Would you reproach yourself even with the interest which you might take in it? What harm is to be feared from so pure a sentiment, and what sweetness might there not be to taste in it?

My love alarms you, you find it violent, unrestrained! Temper it with a gentler love; do not disdain the empire which I offer you, from which I swear never to escape, and which, I dare believe, would not be entirely lost to virtue. What sacrifice could seem hard to me, once sure that your heart could keep its price for me? Where is the man, then, who is so unhappy as not to know how to delight in the privations which he imposes on himself, as not to prefer a word, a glance, accorded, to all the pleasures which he could steal or surprise? And you believed that I was such a man, and you feared me! Ah, why does not your happiness depend on my own! What vengeance I would take on you, by rendering you happy! But this gentle empire is no result of barren friendship; it is only due to love.

That word frightens you! And why? A more tender attachment, a stronger union, a common thought, a like happiness and a like pain, what is there in that alien to your soul? Yet love is all that! Such, at least, is the love which you inspire and I experience. It is that, above all, which, calculating without interest, knows how to appreciate actions according to their merit and not their price; it is the inexhaustible treasure of sensitive souls, and all things become precious that are done for or by it.

What, then, have these truths, so easy to grasp, so sweet to practice, that can alarm? What fear, either, can a man of sensibility cause you, to whom love permits no other happiness than your own? This is the solitary vow I make today: I will sacrifice all to fulfill it, except the sentiment by which it is inspired; and this sentiment itself, if you do but consent to share it, you shall order as you will. But let us suffer it no longer to divide us, when it should unite us. If the friendship you have offered me is not an idle word; if, as you told me yesterday, it is the sweetest sentiment known to your soul, let that be the bond between us; I will not reject it: but, being arbiter of love, let it consent to listen to it; a refusal to hear it would become an injustice, and friendship is not unjust.

A second interview will present no greater difficulty than the first: chance can again furnish the occasion; you could yourself indicate the right moment. I am willing to believe that I am wrong; would you not be better pleased to convince me than to combat me, and do you doubt my docility? If that inopportune third party had not come to interrupt us, perhaps I had already been brought round entirely to your opinion: who knows the full extent of your power?

Shall I say it to you? This invincible power, to which I abandon myself without venturing on calculation, this irresistible charm, which renders you sovereign of my thoughts as of my actions: it comes to me sometimes to fear them. Alas, perhaps it is I who should be afraid of this interview for which I ask! After it, perhaps, bound by my promises, I shall see myself compelled to consume away with a love which, I am well aware, can never be extinguished, without daring to implore your aid! Ah, Madame, for mercy’s sake, do not abuse your authority! But what then! if you are to be the happier for it, if I am thereby to appear worthier of you, what pains are not alleviated by these consoling ideas! Yes, I feel it; to speak again with you is to give you stronger arms against me; it is to submit myself more entirely to your will. It is easier to defend myself against your letters; they are indeed your very utterances, but you are not there to lend them fresh strength. However, the pleasure of hearing you leads me to brave the danger: at least I shall have the pleasure of having dared everything for you, even against myself; and my sacrifices will become an homage. I am too happy to prove to you in a thousand manners, as I feel in a thousand fashions, that you are and ever will be, without excepting myself, the object dearest to my heart.