Dangerous Liaisons —137—


THIS INSTANT ONLY, MADAME, has your letter been handed to me; I shuddered as I read it, and it has left me with barely the strength to reply to it. What terrible idea, then, do you form of me? Ah, doubtless, I have my faults, and such faults as I shall never forgive myself, all my life, even were you to cover them with your indulgence. But how far from my soul have those ever been with which you reproach me! What, I! Humiliate you! Degrade you! When I respect you as much as I cherish you; when I have never felt a moment of pride save when you judged me worthy of you! You are deceived by appearances, and I admit they may have seemed against me: but did not your heart contain the wherewithal to contend against them, and did it not rebel at the mere thought that it could have a cause of complaint against mine? However, you believed it. So you not only judged me capable of this atrocious madness, but you even feared you had exposed yourself to it through your bounty to me. Ah, if you consider yourself to such a degree degraded by your love, I am myself, then, all that is vile in your eyes!

Oppressed by the painful emotion which this idea causes me, I am losing, in repelling it, the time I should employ in destroying it. I will confess all: I am restrained also by quite another consideration. Must I retrace facts which I would fain obliterate, and fix your attention and my own upon a moment of error which I would fain redeem with the rest of my life, the cause of which I cannot even now conceive, and the memory of which must for ever be my humiliation and my despair? Ah, if my self-accusation is to excite your anger, you will not, at any rate, have to seek far for your revenge; it will be sufficient to hand me over to my remorse.

However, who would believe it? The first cause of this incident is the supreme charm which I experience when I am by you. It was this which caused me too long to forget important business which could not be postponed. I left you too late, and did not find the person of whom I was in search. I hoped to meet him at the Opera, and my visit there was equally unsuccessful. Émilie, whom I met there, whom I had known in days when I was far from knowing you or love; Émilie was without her carriage, and begged me to set her down at her house, not a dozen yards away, and to this I consented, seeing no harm in it. But it was just then that I met you, and I felt immediately that you would be driven to hold me guilty.

The fear of displeasing or of grieving you is so potent with me that it was bound to be, and indeed was, speedily noticed. I admit even that it induced me to try and persuade the girl not to show herself; this precaution of delicacy was fatal to love. Accustomed, like all those of her condition, never to be certain of an empire, ever usurped, save by means of the abuse which they allow themselves to make of it, Émilie was by no means willing to allow so splendid an occasion to slip. The more she saw my embarrassment increase, the more she affected to shew herself; and her mad merriment—and I blush to think that you could for a moment have thought yourself its object—was only caused by the cruel pain I experienced, which itself was but due to my respect and love.

So far, doubtless, I am more unfortunate than guilty, and those wrongs, which would be wrongs in the case of anybody, and the only ones you mention; those wrongs, being wiped away, cannot be a cause of reproach to me. But ’tis in vain you pass over in silence those of love: I shall not maintain a like silence concerning them; I have too great an interest in breaking it.

In the confusion in which I am thrown by this unaccountable deviation, it is not without extreme sorrow that I can bring myself to recall the memory of it. Penetrated with a sense of my failings, I would consent to pay the penalty for them, or I would wait for time, my eternal tenderness, and repentance to bring my pardon. But how can I be silent, when what is left for me to say concerns your delicacy?

Do not think I seek a pretense to excuse or palliateiu my fault: I confess my guilt. But I do not confess, I will never admit, that this humiliating error can be looked upon as a fault in love. Nay, what can there be in common between a surprise of the senses, a moment’s self-oblivion, soon followed by shame and regret, and a pure sentiment which can only be born in a delicate soul and sustained by esteem, and of which, finally, happiness is the fruit? Ah, do not profane love thus! Above all, fear to profane yourself by uniting in the same point of view things which can never be confounded. Leave vile and degraded women to dread a rivalry which they feel may be established in their own despite, and to know the pangs of a jealousy as humiliating as it is cruel: but do you turn away your eyes from objects which might sully their glance; and, pure as the Divinity, like it punish the offense without feeling it.

But what penalty will you impose on me that is more grievous than that which I undergo? What can be compared to the regret at having displeased you, the despair at having grieved you, the overwhelming idea of having rendered myself less worthy of you? You are absorbed in punishing me, and I ask you for consolations: not that I deserve them, but because they are necessary to me, and they can only come to me from you!

If, on a sudden, forgetful of our love, and setting no further price on my happiness, you wish, on the contrary, to hand me over to eternal sorrow, you have the right; strike: but if, more indulgent or more sensitive, you remind yourself once more of those tender sentiments which united our hearts; of that voluptuousness of the soul, always being born again and always felt more keenly; of those sweet and fortunate days which each of us owed to the other; all those benefits of love which love alone procures; perhaps you will prefer the power of renewing to that of destroying them. What can I say more? I have lost all, and lost it by my fault; but I can retrieve all by your bounty. It is for you to decide now. I will add but one word. Only yesterday you swore to me that my happiness was quite secure so long as it depended on you! Ah, Madame, will you abandon me today to an eternal despair?