Dangerous Liaisons —10—


VICOMTE, ARE YOU ANGRY with me? Or are you, indeed, dead? Or, what would not be unlike that, are you living only for your Presidente? This woman, who has restored you the illusions of youth, will soon restore you also its ridiculous prejudices. Here you are already timid and a slave; you might as well be amorous. You renounce your fortunate audacities. Behold you then conducting yourself without principles, and trusting all to hazard,ao or rather to caprice. Do you no longer remember that love, like medicine, is nothing but the art of assisting nature? You see that I beat you with your own arms, but I will not plume myselfap on that: it is indeed beating a man when he is down. She must give herself, you tell me. Ah, no doubt, she must; she will give herself like the others, with this difference, that it will be with a bad grace.

But if the end is that she should give herself, the true way is to begin by taking her. This absurd distinction is indeed a true sign of love’s madness! I say love; for you are in love. To speak to you otherwise would be to cheat you, it would be to hide from you your ill. Tell me then, languid lover, the women whom you have had, did you think you had violated them? Why, however desirous one may be of giving oneself, however eager one may be, one still needs a pretext; and is there any more convenient for us than that which gives us the air of yielding to force? For me, I confess, one of the things which flatter me the most is a well-timed and lively assault, where everything succeeds in order, although with rapidity; which never throws us into the painful embarrassment of having ourselves to repair a gaucherie from which, on the contrary, we should have profited; which is cunning to maintain the air of violence even in things which we grant, and to flatter adroitly our two favorite passions, the glory of resistance and the pleasure of defeat. I grant that this talent, rarer than one may think, has always given me pleasure, even when it has not seduced me, and that sometimes, solely for recompense,aq it has induced me to yield. So, in our ancient tourneys, beauty gave the prize of valor and skill.

But you, who are no longer you, are behaving as if you were afraid of success. Ah! since when do you travel by short stages and crossroads? My friend, when one wishes to arrive, post-horses and the highway! But let us drop this subject, which is all the more distasteful to me in that it deprives me of the pleasure of seeing you. At least write to me more often than you do, and keep me informed of your progress. Do you know that it is now more than a fortnight since you have been occupied by this ridiculous adventure, and have neglected all the world?

A propos of negligence, you are like those people who send regularly to enquire after their sick friends, but who never trouble to get a reply. You finish your last letter by asking me if the Chevalier be dead. I do not answer, and you are no longer in the least concerned. Are you no longer aware that my lover is your born friend? But reassure yourself, he is not dead; or if he were, it would be for excess of joy. This poor Chevalier, how tender he is! how excellently is he made for love! how well he knows how to feel intensely! It makes my head reel. Seriously, the perfect happiness which he derives from being loved by me gives me a real attachment for him.

The very same day upon which I wrote to you that I was going to promote a rupture, how happy I made him! Yet I was mightily occupied, when they announced him, about the means of putting him in despair. Was it reason or caprice: he never seemed to me so fine. I nevertheless received him with temper. He hoped to pass two hours with me, before the time when my door would be open to everybody. I told him that I was going out: he asked me whither I was going; I refused to tell him. He insisted: “Where I shall not have your company,” I answered acidly. Luckily for himself, he stood as though petrified by this answer; for had he said a word, a scene would infallibly have ensued which would have led to the projected rupture. Astonished by his silence, I cast my eyes upon him, with no other intention, upon my oath, than to see what countenance he would show. I discovered on that charming face that sorrow, at once so tender and so profound, which, you yourself have admitted, it is so difficult to resist. Like causes produce like effects: I was vanquished a second time.

From that moment, I was only busy in finding a means of preventing him from having a grievance against me. “I am going out on business,” said I, with a somewhat gentler air; “nay, even on business which concerns you; but do not question me further. I shall sup at home; return, and you shall know all.” At this he recovered the power of speech; but I did not permit him to use it. “I am in great haste,” I continued; “leave me, until this evening.” He kissed my hand and went away.

Immediately, to compensate him, perhaps to compensate myself, I decide to acquaint him with my petite maison,ar of which he had no suspicion. I called my faithful Victoire. I have my headache; I am gone to bed, for all my household; and left alone at last with my Trusty, while she disguises herself as a lackey, I don the costume of a waiting maid. She next calls a hackney coach to the gate of my garden, and behold us on our way! Arrived in this temple of love, I chose the most gallant of déshabillés. This one is delicious; it is my own invention: it lets nothing be seen and yet allows you to divineas all. I promise you a pattern of it for your Présidente, when you have rendered her worthy to wear it.

After these preliminaries, while Victoire busies herself with other details, I read a chapter of Le Sopha,at a letter of Héloïse and two Tales of La Fontaine,9 in order to rehearse the different tones which I would assume. Meantime, my Chevalier arrives at my door with his accustomed zeal. My porter denies him, and informs him that I am ill: incident the first. At the same time he hands him a note from me, but not in my handwriting, after my prudent rule. He opens it and sees written therein in Victoire’s hand: “At nine o’clock, punctually, on the Boulevard, in front of the cafés.” Thither he betakes himself, and there a little lackey whom he does not know, whom he believes, at least, that he does not know, for of course it was Victoire, comes and informs him that he must dismiss his carriage and follow her. All this romantic promenade helped all the more to heat his mind, and a hot head is by no means undesirable. At last, he arrives, and love and amazement produced in him a veritable enchantment. To give him time to recover, we stroll out for a while in the little wood; then I take him back again to the house. He sees, at first, two covers laid; then a bed prepared. We pass into the boudoir, which was richly adorned. There, half pensively, half in sentiment, I threw my arms round him, and fell on my knees.

“O my friend,” said I, “in my desire to reserve the surprise of this moment for you, I reproach myself with having grieved you with a pretence of ill humor; with having been able, for an instant, to veil my heart to your gaze. Pardon me my wrongs: the strength of my love shall expiate them.”

You may judge of the effect of this sentimental oration. The happy Chevalier lifted me up, and my pardon was sealed on that very same ottoman where you and I once sealed so gallantly, and in like fashion, our eternal rupture.

As we had six hours to pass together, and I had resolved to make all this time equally delicious for him, I moderated his transports, and brought an amiable coquetry to replace tenderness. I do not think that I have ever been at so great pains to please, nor that I have ever been so pleased with myself. After supper, by turns childish and reasonable, sensible and gay, even libertine at times, it was my pleasure to look upon him as a sultan in the heart of his seraglio,10 of which I was by turn the different favorites. In fact, his repeated acts of homage, although always received by the same woman, were ever received by a different mistress.

Finally, at the approach of day, we were obliged to separate; and whatever he might say, or even do, to prove to me the contrary, he had as much need of separation as he had little desire of it. At the moment when we left the house, and for a last adieu, I took the key of this abode of bliss, and giving it into his hands: “I had it but for you,” said I; “it is right that you should be its master. It is for him who sacrifices to have the disposition of the temple.” By such a piece of adroitness, I anticipated him from the reflections which might have been suggested to him, by the possession, always suspicious, of a petite maison. I know him well enough to be sure that he will never make use of it except for me; and if the whim seized me to go there without him, I have a second key. He would at all costs fix a day for return; but I love him still too well, to care to exhaust him so soon. One must not permit oneself excesses, except with persons whom one wishes soon to leave. He does not know that himself; but happily for him, I have knowledge for two.

I perceive that it is three o‘clock in the morning, and that I have written a volume, with the intention but to write a word. Such is the charm of confident friendship: ’tis on account of that, that you are always he whom I love the best; but, in truth, the Chevalier pleases me more.