Dangerous Liaisons —131—


WHAT, THEN, MY LOVELY friend, are those sacrifices which you deem I would not make for you, the reward of which, however, would be to please you? Let me only know them, and if I hesitate to offer them to you, I permit you to refuse the homage. Pray, what opinion have you conceived of me of late, if even in your indulgence you doubt my sentiments or my energy? Sacrifices which I would not or could not make! You think, then, that I am in love and subjugated? And you suspect me of having attached to the person the price which I set upon success? Ah, thank Heaven, I am not yet reduced to that, and I offer to prove it to you. Yes, I will prove it to you, even if it should be at Madame de Tourvel’s expense. After that, assuredly, you can have no further doubt.

I have been able, I believe, without compromising myself, to devote some time to a woman who has, at least, the merit of being of a sort that is rarely met with. Perhaps, moreover, the dead season at which this adventure befell, caused me to abandon myself more to it; and, even now, when the great current has scarcely begun to flow, it is not surprising that it should almost entirely occupy me. But remember, please, that it is scarce eight days since I culled the fruits of three months’ labor. I have often dallied longer with what was of much less value and had not cost me so much! … And never did you draw a conclusion from it to my prejudice.

Besides, would you like to know the true cause of the zeal I am bringing to bear upon it? I will tell you. This woman is naturally timid; at first she doubted incessantly of her happiness, and this doubt sufficed to trouble it: so much so that I am only just beginning to see the extent of my power in this direction. Yet it was a thing I was curious to know; and the occasion is not so readily offered as you may think.

To begin with, for many women pleasure is always pleasure, and never aught else; and in the sight of these, whatever the title with which they adorn us, we are never more than factors, mere commissioners, whose activity is all our merit, and among whom he who does the most is always he who does best.

In another class, perhaps nowadays the most numerous, the celebrity of the lover, the pleasure of having carried him off from a rival, the fear of being robbed of him in turn, absorb the women almost entirely: we count, indeed, more or less, for something in the kind of enjoyment they obtain; but it depends more on the circumstances than on the person: it comes to them through us and not from us.

I needed, then, for the purposes of my observation, to find a delicate and sensitive woman, who made love her sole affair, and who in love itself saw only her lover; whose emotions, far from following the common road, ever started from the heart to reach the senses; whom I have seen, for instance (and I do not speak of the first day), rise from the moment of enjoyment in despair, and a moment later recover pleasure in a word which was responsive to her soul. Last, she must unite to all this that natural candor, grown insurmountable by force of habit, which would not permit her to dissimulate the least sentiment of her heart. Now you will admit, such women are rare; and I dare believe that, failing this one, I should never, perhaps, have met another. It should not be surprising therefore, that she should hold me longer than another; and if the trouble that I take with her makes her happy, perfectly happy, why should I refuse it, especially as it pleases me instead of being disagreeable to me? But, because the mind is engaged, does it follow that the heart is caught? Certainly not. Nor will the value which I admit I set upon this adventure prevent me from embarking on others, or even from sacrificing it to some more agreeable one.

I am free to such an extent that I have not even neglected the little Volanges, whom, nevertheless, I hold so cheap. Her mother brings her back to town in three days; and yesterday I assured my communications; a little money to the porter, a few compliments to his wife, did the business. Can you conceive that Danceny never thought of this simple method? And then they tell us that love creates ingenuity! On the contrary, it stupefies those whom it enslaves. Shall not I, then, know how to defend myself from it? Ah, you may be easy. Already, in a few days, I am about to weaken the impression, too lively perhaps, which I have experienced, by dividing it; and, if a simple division will not do, I will multiply them.

I shall be nonetheless ready to restore the little schoolgirl to her discreet lover as soon as you think proper. It seems to me that you have no longer any motive for preventing it; and I consent to do poor Danceny this signal service. ‘Tis in truth, the least I can do in return for those he has done me. He is, at present, in the greatest anxiety to discover whether he will be received at Madame de Volanges’; I calm him, to the utmost of my power, by assuring him that, in one way or another, I will contrive his happiness on an early occasion; and, in the meantime, I continue to charge myself with the correspondence which he means to resume on the arrival of his Cécile. I have already six letters from him, and I shall, certainly, have one or two more before the happy day. The lad must have mighty little to do!

But let us leave this childish couple and return to ourselves, so that I may occupy myself exclusively with the sweet hope your letter gave me. Yes, without a doubt you will hold me, and I would not pardon you for doubting it. Pray, have I ever ceased to be constant to you? Our bonds have been relaxed, but never broken; our pretended rupture was only an error of our imagination. Our sentiments, our interests remained nonetheless united. Like the traveler who returns in disillusion, I will confess that I deserted happiness to run after hope; and will say with d’Harcourt:

“The more strange lands I saw, I loved my country more.”in

Please, then, oppose no longer the idea, or rather the sentiment, which restores you to me; and, after having tasted all the pleasures, in our different courses, let us enjoy the happiness of feeling that none of them is comparable with that which we had of old, and which we shall find more delicious still.

Adieu, my charming friend. I consent to await your return; but hasten it, I pray you, and do not forget how greatly I desire it.