Dangerous Liaisons —98—


IT IS BUT A few days ago, my charming friend, that you were asking me for consolation and advice: today, it is my turn; and I make you the same request which you made to me. I am indeed in real distress, and I fear that I have not taken the best means to remove the vexations from which I suffer.

It is my daughter who is the cause of my anxiety. Since my departure I had seen she was always sad and melancholy; but I was prepared for that, and had armed my heart with the severity I judged necessary. I hoped that absence, distraction, would soon destroy a love which I looked upon rather as a childish error than as a real passion. However, far from having recovered since our sojourn here, I notice that the child abandons herself more and more to a dangerous melancholy; and I am actually afraid that her health is suffering. Particularly during the last few days, it has visibly altered. Yesterday, above all, it struck me, and everybody here was genuinely alarmed.

What proves to me, besides, how keenly she is affected is that I see her prepared to overcome the shyness she has always shown with me. Yesterday morning, at the mere question I put to her, as to whether she were ill, she threw herself into my arms, telling me that she was very miserable; and she cried till she sobbed. I cannot describe to you the pain it caused me; tears came to my eyes at once; and I had only the time to turn away, to prevent her from seeing them. Luckily I had sufficient prudence to put no questions to her, and she did not dare to tell me any more; but it is nonetheless clear that it is this unfortunate passion which is tormenting her.

What course am I to take, however, if it lasts? Am I to be the cause of my daughter’s unhappiness? Shall I blame her for the most precious qualities of the soul, sensibility and constancy? Am I her mother only for that? And if I should stifle that so natural sentiment, which makes us desire the happiness of our children; if I should regard as a weakness what I hold, on the contrary, to be the first and most sacred of all duties; if I force her choice, shall I not have to answer for the disastrous consequences which may ensue? What a use to make of maternal authority, to give my daughter a choice between unhappiness and sin!

My friend, I shall not imitate what I have so often blamed. Doubtless, I might try to make a choice for my daughter; I did, in that, but aid her with my experience; it was not a right which I exercised, but a duty which I fulfilled. I should betray one, on the contrary, were I to dispose of her to the neglect of an inclination, the birth of which I have not been able to prevent, and of which neither she nor I can judge the duration or the extent. No, I will never endure that she should marry one man that she may love another; and I would rather compromise my authority than her virtue.

I think, therefore, that I shall be taking the more prudent course in retracting the promise I have given to M. de Gercourt. You have just heard my reasons for this; it seems to me they ought to outweigh my promises. I say more: in the state in which things are, to fulfill my engagement would really be to violate it. For, after all, if I owe it to my daughter not to betray her secret to M. de Gercourt, I owe it to him at least not to abuse the ignorance in which I keep him, and to do for him all that I believe he would do for himself, if he were informed. Shall I, on the contrary, betray him ignobly, when he relies on my faith, and, while he honors me by choosing me for his second mother, deceive him in the choice he wishes to make of the mother of his children? These reflections, so true, and to me irrefutable, alarm me more than I can say.

With the misfortunes which they make me dread I compare my daughter happy with the bridegroom her heart has chosen, knowing her duties only from the sweetness which she finds in fulfilling them; my son-in-law equally contented and congratulating himself each day upon his choice; neither of them finding happiness save in the happiness of the other, and in that of cooperating to augment my own. Ought the hope of so sweet a future to be sacrificed to vain considerations? And what are those which restrain me? Only interested views. Pray, what advantage will my daughter gain from being born rich, if she is, nonetheless, to be the slave of fortune?

I agree that M. de Gercourt is a better match, perhaps, than I ought to hope for my daughter; I confess, indeed, that I was extremely flattered at the choice he made of her. But, after all, Danceny is of as good a family as his; he yields no whitgh to him in personal qualities; he has over M. de Gercourt the advantage of loving and of being beloved: in truth, he is not rich; but has not my daughter enough for two? Ah, why ravish from her the sweet satisfaction of enriching him whom she loves!

Those marriages which one calculates instead of assorting,gi which one calls marriages of convenience, and which are in fact convenient in all save taste and character—are they not the most fertile source of those scandalous outbreaks which become every day more frequent? I prefer to delay; at least I shall have time to study my daughter, whom I do not know. I have, indeed, the courage to cause her a passing sorrow, if she is to gain, thereby, a more substantial happiness: but I have not the heart to risk abandoning her to eternal despair.

Those, my dear friend, are the ideas which torment me, and as to which I ask your advice. These serious topics contrast mightily with your amiable gaiety, and seem hardly fitting to your youth: but your reason has so far outgrown that! Your friendship, moreover, will assist your prudence; and I have no fear that either will be refused to the maternal solicitude which invokes them.

Adieu, my charming friend; never doubt the sincerity of my sentiments.