Dangerous Liaisons —155—


I HAVE CALLED UPON you twice, my dear Chevalier: but, since you have abandoned the rôle of lover to take up that of the man of gallant conquests, you have naturally become invisible. Your valet-de-chambre, however, assured me that you would return this evening ; that he had orders to await you: but I, who am acquainted with your plans, understood quite well that you would only enter for a moment, to put on the suitable costume, and would promptly recommence your victorious progress. ’Tis very well, and I cannot but applaud you for it; but, perhaps, for this evening, you will be tempted to change your direction. As yet you do but know one half of your occupations; I must make you acquainted with the other, and then you shall decide. Take the time, then, to read my letter. It will not tend to distract you from your pleasures, since, on the contrary, it has no other object than to offer you a choice of them.

If I had possessed your whole confidence, if I had heard from yourself that part of your secrets which you have left me to divine, I should have been informed in time, and my zeal would have been less inopportune and would not impede your movements today. But let us start from where we are. Whatever course you were to take, your rejected would always make another happy.

You have a rendezvous tonight, have you not? With a charming woman, whom you adore? For, at your age, who is the woman one does not adore, at least for the first week! The setting of the scene must enhance your pleasures. A delicious petite-maison, which has been taken only for you, is to adorn voluptuousness with the charms of liberty and of mystery. All is arranged; you are expected, and you burn to betake yourself there! We both know that, although you have said no word of it to me. Now, here is what you do not know, and what I have to tell you.

Since my return to Paris, I have been busy over the means of bringing you and Mademoiselle de Volanges together; I promised you this; and on the very last occasion when I spoke of it to you, I had reason to judge from your replies, I might say from your transports, that in this I was promoting your happiness. I could not succeed in this difficult enterprise by myself alone: but, after preparing the means, I left the rest to the zeal of your young mistress. Her love has discovered resources which my experience lacked: in short, it is your misfortune that she has succeeded. Two days since, as she told me this evening, every obstacle was surmounted, and your happiness only depends on yourself.

For two days, also, she flattered herself that she would be able to give you this news herself, and, in spite of her Mamma’s absence, you would have been received: but you have not even presented yourself! And, to tell you the truth, whether it be reason or caprice, the little person seemed to me somewhat vexed at this lack of eagerness on your part. At last, she found a means of summoning me to her, and made me promise to forward the enclosed letter to you as soon as possible. From the emphasis she laid upon it, I would wager it is a question of a rendezvous for tonight. Be that as it may, I promised upon my honor and my friendship that you should have the tender missive in the course of today, and I cannot and will not break my word.

Now, young man, what is your conduct to be? Placed between coquetry and love, between pleasure and happiness, which will be your choice? If I were speaking to the Danceny of three months ago, nay, even of a week ago, I should be as certain of his behavior as I was of his heart: but the Danceny of today, led away by the women, running after adventures, and grown, as the usage is, somewhat of a rake, will he prefer a very shy young girl, who only offers him her beauty, her innocence and her love, to the attractions of a woman who is certainly very well worn?

For my part, my dear friend, it seems to me that, even with your new principles, which, I quite admit, are shared also in some degree by myself, I should decide, under the circumstances, for the younger flame. To begin with, it is one the more, and then the novelty, and again the fear of losing the fruit of your labor by neglecting to cull it; for, on that side, in short, it would be really an opportunity missed, and it does not always return, especially in the case of a first frailty: when such are in question, often it needs but one moment of ill humor, one jealous suspicion, less even, to prevent the most handsome triumph. Drowning virtue sometimes clings to a straw; and, once escaped, it keeps upon its guard and is no longer easily surprised.

On the other side, on the contrary, what do you risk? Not even a rupture; a quarrel at the most, whereby you purchase, at the cost of a few attentions, the pleasure of a reconciliation. What other course remains for a woman who has already given herself, save that of indulgence? What would she gain by severity? The loss of her pleasures, with no profit to her glory.

If, as I assume, you choose the path of love, which seems to me also that of reason, I should consider it prudent to send no excuses to the abandoned rendezvous; let yourself be expected quite simply: if you risk giving a reason, there will perhaps be a temptation to verify it. Women are curious and obstinate; all might be discovered; as you know, I am myself just now an example of this. But, if you leave a hope, as it will be sustained by vanity, it will not be lost until long after the proper hour for seeking information: then, tomorrow, you will be able to select the insurmountable obstacle which will have detained you; you will have been ill, dead if necessary, or anything else which will have caused you equal despair; and all will be right again.

For the rest, whichever course you adopt, I only ask you to inform me of it; and, as I have no interest in the matter, I shall in any case think that you have done well. Adieu, my dear friend.

I add one thing more, that I regret Madame de Tourvel; that I am in despair at being separated from her; that I would pay with half my life for the privilege of consecrating the other half to her. Ah, believe me, love is one’s only happiness!