Dangerous Liaisons —129—


TELL ME THEN, MY lovely friend, whence comes the tone of bitterness and banter which prevails in your last letter? Pray, what crime have I committed, apparently without suspecting it, which put you in such ill humor? You reproach me with having the air of counting on your consent before I had obtained it: but I believed that what might seem presumption in the case of everybody could never be taken, between you and me, for aught save confidence: and since when has that sentiment done detriment to friendship or to love? In uniting hope to desire, I did but yield to the natural impulse which makes us ever place the happiness we seek as near to us as possible; and you took for the effect of pride what was no more than the result of my eagerness. I know mighty well that custom has introduced in such a case a respectful doubt: but you also know that it is but a form, a mere protocol; and I was authorized, it seems to me, to believe that these minute precautions were no longer necessary between us.

Methinks, even, that this free and frank method, when it is founded on an old liaison, is far preferable to the insipid flattery which so often takes the relish out of love. Perhaps, moreover, the value which I find in this manner does but come from that which I attach to the happiness which it recalls to me: but, for that very cause, it would be more painful still for me to see you judge of it otherwise.

That, however, is the only error which I am conscious of; for I do not imagine that you could have thought seriously that there existed any woman in the world whom I could prefer to you, and, even less, that I could appreciate you so ill as you feign to believe. You have looked at yourself, you tell me, in this connection, and you have not found yourself reduced to such a point. I well believe it, and it proves only that you have a faithful mirror. But could you not have drawn the conclusion, with more ease and justice, that I was very certain not to have judged you so?

I seek in vain for a cause for this strange idea. It seems, however, that it is due, more or less, to the praises I have permitted myself to make of other women. At least I infer it, from your affectation of picking out the epithets adorable, celestial, seductive, which I made use of in speaking to you of Madame de Tourvel or of the little Volanges. But are you not aware that these words, more often used by chance than from reflection, are less expressive of the account one takes of the person than of the situation in which one finds oneself at the time of speaking? And if, at the very moment when I was keenly affected either by one or the other, I was nonetheless desirous of you; if I showed you a marked preference over both of them; since, in short, I could not renew our former liaison, except to the prejudice of the two others, I do not find in that so great a matter for reproach.

It will be no more difficult for me to justify myself as to the unknown charm with which you seem to be also somewhat shocked: for, to begin with, it does not result that it is stronger from the fact that it is unknown. Ah, who could give it the palmik over the delicious pleasures which you alone know how to render always fresh, as they are always keen? I did but wish to tell you, therefore, that it was of a kind which I had not experienced before, but I did not pretend to assign a class to it; and I added what I repeat today, that, whatever it may be, I shall know how to combat and to conquer it. I shall bring even more zeal to this, if I can see in this trivial task a homage to be offered to you.

As for the little Cécile, I think it hardly necessary to speak of her to you. You have not forgotten that it was at your request that I charged myself with the child, and I only await your permission to be rid of her. I may have remarked upon her ingenuousness and freshness; I may even, for a moment, have thought her seductive, because, in a more or less degree, one always takes pleasure in one’s own handiwork; but, assuredly, she is not in any way of sufficient consequence to fix one’s attention upon her.

And now, my lovely friend, I appeal to your justice, to your first kindness for me, to the long and perfect friendship, the entire confidence which has since welded the bonds between us: have I deserved the severe tone which you adopt with me? But how easy it will be for you to compensate me for it when you like! Say but one word, and you will see whether all the charms and all the seductions will detain me here, not for a day, but for a minute. I will fly to your feet and into your arms, and I will prove to you a thousand times, and in a thousand manners, that you are, that you will ever be the true sovereign of my heart.

Adieu, my lovely friend; I await your reply with much eagerness.