Dangerous Liaisons —141—


GOOD GOD, VICOMTE, HOW you trouble me with your obstinacy! What does my silence matter to you? Do you suppose, if I maintain it, that it is for lack of reasons to justify it? Ah, would to God it were! But no; it is only that it is painful for me to tell you them.

Tell me truly: are you under an illusion yourself, or are you trying to deceive me? The disparity between what you say and what you do leaves me no choice but between these two sentiments: which is the true one? Pray, what would you have me say to you, when I myself do not know what to think?

You appear to make a great merit of your last scene with the Présidente ; but, pray, what does it prove for your system, or against mine? I certainly never said that you loved this woman well enough not to deceive her, or not to seize every occasion which might seem to you easy or agreeable: I never even doubted but that it would be very much the same to you to satisfy with another, with the first comer, the same desires which she alone could have raised; and I am not surprised that, in the licentiousness of mind which one would be wrong to deny you, you have done once from deliberation what you have done a thousand times from opportunity. Who does not know that this is the simple way of the world, and the custom of you all, whoever you are, to whatever class you belong, from the rascal to the espèces?ja Whoever abstains from it, nowadays, passes for a romantic ; and that is not, I think, the fault with which I reproach you.

But what I have said, what I have thought, and what I still think, is that you are nonetheless in love with your Présidente. Truly not with a love that is very pure or very tender, but with that of which you are capable; that kind, for instance, which enables you to find in a woman attractions or qualities which she does not possess; which places her in a class apart, and puts all other women in the second rank; which keeps you attached to her even when you outrage her; such, in short, as I conceive a sultan may feel for a favorite sultana, which does not prevent him from preferring to her often a simple odalisque.jb My comparison seems to me all the more just because, like him, you are never either the lover or friend of a woman, but always her tyrant or her slave. Thus, I am quite sure you humbled and abased yourself mightily, to regain this lovely creature’s good graces! And only too happy at having succeeded, as soon as you think the moment has arrived to obtain your pardon, you leave me for this grand event.

In your last letter, again, if you do not speak exclusively of this woman, it is because you will not tell me anything of your grand affairs; they seem to you so important that the silence which you maintain on this subject seems to you sufficient punishment for me. And it is after these thousand proofs of your decided preference for another that you ask me calmly whether we still have any interests in common! Take care, Vicomte! If I once answer you, my answer will be irrevocable: and to be afraid to give it at this moment is perhaps already to have said too much. I am resolved, therefore, to speak no more of it.

All that I can do is to tell you a story. May be you will not have time to read it, or to give so much attention to it as to understand it right? That is your affair. At worst it will only be a story wasted.

A man of my acquaintance was entangled, like you, with a woman who did him little honor. He had indeed, at intervals, the wit to feel that, sooner or later, this adventure would do him harm: but although he blushed for it, he had not the courage to break it off. His embarrassment was all the greater in that he had boasted to his friends that he was entirely free; and that he was well aware that, when one meets with ridicule, it is always increased by self-defense. He passed his life thus, never ceasing to commit follies, never ceasing to say afterward: It is not my fault. This man had a friend, and she was tempted at one moment to give him up to the public in this state of frenzy, and thus render his ridicule indelible: however, being more generous than malicious, or, perhaps, for some other motive, she wished to make one last attempt, so that, whatever happened, she might be in a position to say, like her friend: It is not my fault. She sent him, therefore, without any other explanation, the following letter, as a remedy whose application might be useful to his disease:

“One tires of everything, my angel: it is a law of nature; it is not my fault.

“If, then, I am tired today of an adventure which has occupied me exclusively for four mortal months, it is not my fault.

“If, for instance, I had just as much love as you had virtue, and that is saying much, it is not surprising that one should finish at the same time as the other. It is not my fault.

“Hence it follows that for some time past I have deceived you: but then your pitiless fondness in some measure forced me to it! It is not my fault.

“Today, a woman whom I love to distraction demands that I sacrifice you. It is not my fault.

“I am very sensible that here is a fine opportunity for calling me perjured:jc but, if nature has only gifted men with constancy, while it has given women obstinacy, it is not my fault.

“Believe me, take another lover, as I have taken another mistress. This advice is good, very good; if you think it bad, it is not my fault.

“Adieu, my angel; I took you with pleasure, I leave you without regret: perhaps I shall return. This is the way of the world. It is not my fault.”

It is not the moment, Vicomte, to tell you the effect of this last attempt, and what resulted from it: but I promise to let you know in my next letter. You will find there also my ultimatum as to the renewal of the treaty you propose. Until then, quite simply, adieu….

By the way, I thank you for your details as to the little Volanges; it is an article that will keep for the gazettejd of scandal on the day after her marriage. In the meantime I send you my condolences on the loss of your progeny. Good night, Vicomte.