Dangerous Liaisons —134—


TRULY, VICOMTE, YOU ARE like the children, before whom one cannot say a word, and to whom one can show nothing because they would at once lay hold of it! A bare idea which comes to me, upon which I warned you even that I was not settled—because I speak of it to you, you take advantage of it to recall my attention to it when I am seeking to forget it, and to make me, in a measure, participate, in spite of myself, in your headstrong desires! Is it generous, pray, to leave me to support the whole burden of prudence alone? I tell you again, and repeat it more often to myself, the arrangement which you suggest is really impossible. Even if you were to include all the generosity you display at this moment, do you suppose that I have not my delicacy also, or that I should be ready to accept sacrifices which would be harmful to your happiness?

Now is it not true, Vicomte, that you are under an illusion as to the sentiment which attaches you to Madame de Tourvel? It is love, or love has never existed: you deny it in a hundred fashions, but you prove it in a thousand. What, for instance, of that subterfuge you employ toward yourself (for I believe you to be sincere with me), which makes you ascribe to curiosity the desire which you can neither conceal nor overcome of retaining this woman? Would not one say that you had never made any other woman happy, perfectly happy? Ah, if you doubt that, you have but a poor memory! Nay, it is not that. Quite simply, your heart imposes on your intelligence, and is rewarded with bad arguments: but I, who have great interest in not being deceived by them, am not so easily satisfied.

Thus, while remarking your politeness, which has made you rigorously suppress all the words which you imagined had displeased me, I saw, nevertheless, that, perhaps without taking notice of it, you nonetheless retained the same ideas. ’Tis true, it is no longer the adorable, the celestial Madame de Tourvel; but it is an astounding woman, a delicate and sensitive woman, even to the exclusion of all others; in short a rare woman and such that you would never have met another. It is the same with that unknown charm, which is not the strongest. Well, so be it: but, since you had never found it before, it is easy to believe that you would be no more likely to find it in the future, and the loss you would incur would be nonetheless irreparable. Either these are certain symptoms of love, Vicomte, or we must renounce all hope of ever finding any.

Rest assured that this time I am speaking to you without temper. I have promised I will no more indulge in it; I recognized too clearly that it might become a dangerous snare. Believe me, let us be no more than friends, and let us be content with that. Only do justice to my courage in defending myself: yes, my courage; for one has sometimes need of it, if it be only to refrain from taking a course which one feels to be a bad one.

It is only, then, in order to bring you to my opinion by persuasion that I am going to answer the question you put as to the sacrifices which I should exact, and which you could not make. I employ the word exact expressly, for I am very sure that, in a moment, you will, indeed, find me overexacting: so much the better! Far from being annoyed at your refusal, I shall thank you for it. Come, it is not with you that I care to dissimulate, although, perhaps, I had need do so.

I would exact then—observe my cruelty!—that this rare, this astounding Madame de Tourvel should become no more to you than an ordinary woman, merely a woman such as she is: for you must not deceive yourself; the charm which you think to find in others exists in us, and it is love alone which so embellishes the beloved object. What I now require, impossible as it may be, you would, perhaps, make a grand effort to promise me, to swear it even; but I confess, I should put no faith in empty words. I could only be convinced by the whole tenor of your conduct.

Nor is that even all: I should be capricious. The sacrifice of the little Cécile, which you offer me with so good a grace, I should not care about at all. I should ask you, on the contrary, to continue this troublesome service until fresh orders on my part, whether because I should like thus to abuse my empire, or that, more indulgent or more just, it would suffice me to dispose of your feelings, without wishing to thwart your pleasures. Be that as it may, I would fain be obeyed; and my orders would be very rigorous!

’Tis true that then I should think myself obliged to thank you; and who knows? Perhaps even to reward you. For instance, I should assuredly shorten an absence which would become insupportable to me. In short, I should see you again, Vicomte, and I should see you … how? … But you must remember this is no more than a conversation, a plain narrative of an impossible project, and I would not be the only one to forget it….

Do you know that my lawsuit makes me a little uneasy? I wanted, at last, to know exactly what my prospects were; my advocates, indeed, quote me sundry laws, and above all many authorities,io as they call them: but I cannot see so much reason and justice in them. I am almost inclined to regret that I declined the compromise.ip However, I am reassured when I reflect that the attorneyiq is skillful, the advocate ir eloquent, and the plaintiff pretty. If these three arguments were to be of no more worth, it would be necessary to change the whole course of affairs; and what, then, would become of the respect for ancient customs?

This lawsuit is now the only thing which retains me here. That of Belleroche is finished: nonsuited, costsis divided. He is regrettingit this evening’s ball; it is indeed the regret of the unemployed! I will restore him his complete liberty on my return to town. I make this grievous sacrifice for him, but am consoled by the generosity he finds in it.

Adieu, Vicomte; write to me often. The particulars of your pleasures will recompense me, at least in part, for the tedium I undergo.