Dangerous Liaisons —40—


NOT CONTENT WITH LEAVING my letters without reply, with refusing to receive them, my inhuman wretch wishes to deprive me of the sight of her; she insists on my departure. What will astonish you more is that I am submitting to her severity. You will blame me. However, I thought I ought not to lose the opportunity of obeying a command, persuaded as I am, on the one side, that to command is to commit oneself; and on the other, that that illusive authority which we have the appearance of allowing women to seize is one of the snares which they find it most difficult to elude. Nay, more, the skill which this one has shown in avoiding a solitary encounter with me placed me in a dangerous situation, from which I thought I was bound to escape, whatever might be the cost: for, being constantly with her, without being able to occupy her with my love, there was reason to fear that she might grow accustomed to seeing me without trouble, a disposition from which you know how difficult it is to return.

For the rest, you may guess that I did not submit without conditions. I was even at the pains to impose one which it was impossible to grant, as much for the sake of remaining always free to keep my word or break it, as to promote a discussion, either by word of mouth or in writing, at a time when my beauty is more contented with me, or has need that I should be so with her: not to reckon that I should show a signal lack of skill if I did not find a means to obtain some compensation for my desisting from this pretension, untenable as it may be.

After having explained my motives in this long preamble, I come to the history of the last two days. I enclose as documentary evidence my beauty’s letter and my reply. You will agree that few historians are as precise as I.

You will remember the effect produced by my letter from Dijon, on the morning of the day before yesterday; the rest of the day was most stormy. The pretty prude only appeared at dinnertime, and gave out that she had a violent headache: a pretext with which she masked one of the most furious fits of ill humor that a woman could have. It absolutely altered her face; the expression of gentleness, which you know, was changed into a rebellious air which gave it a fresh loveliness. I promise myself to make use of this discovery, and to replace sometimes the tender mistress with the sullen.

I foresaw that the time after dinner would be dull; and, to escape from ennui, I made a pretext of having letters to write, and retired to my own rooms. I returned to the salon about six o’clock; Madame de Rosemonde suggested a drive, which was agreed to. But just as we were getting into the carriage, the pretended invalid, with infernal malice, alleged in her turn—perhaps to avenge herself for my absence—an increase of the pain, and compelled me pitilessly to support a tête-à-tête with my old aunt. I know not whether the imprecations which I called down on this feminine demon were heeded; but we found her gone to bed on our return.

On the following day, at breakfast, it was not the same woman. Her natural sweetness had returned, and I had reason to believe myself pardoned. Breakfast was hardly over, when the sweet person rose with an indolent air, and went into the park; as you may believe, I followed her. “Whence can spring this desire for walking?” said I, accosting her. “I wrote much, this morning,” she answered, “and my head is a little tired.” “I am not fortunate enough,” I went on, “to have to reproach myself with this fatigue?” “Indeed, I have written to you,” she answered again, “but I hesitate to give you my letter. It contains a request, and you have not accustomed me to hope for success.” “Ah! I swear, if it be possible—” “Nothing could be easier,” she broke in; “and although you ought, perhaps, to grant it out of justice, I consent to obtain it as a grace.” As she said these words, she handed me her letter; seizing it, I also seized her hand, which she drew away, but without anger, and with more embarrassment than vivacity. “The heat is even greater than I thought,” she said, “I must go indoors.” And she retraced her steps to the château. I made vain efforts to persuade her to continue her walk, and I needed to remind myself that we might be observed, in order to employ no more than eloquence. She entered without a word, and I saw plainly that this pretended walk had no other object than to hand me my letter. She went up to her own room as soon as we came in, and I withdrew to mine, to read the epistle, which you will do well to read also, as well as my reply, before proceeding further….