Dangerous Liaisons —64—


WITHOUT SEEKING, MADAME, TO justify my conduct, and without complaining of yours, I cannot but grieve at an event which brings unhappiness to three persons, all three worthier of a happier fate. More sensible to the grief of being the cause of it than even to that of being its victim, I have tried frequently, since yesterday, to have the honor to write to you, without being able to find the strength. I have, however, so many things to say to you that I must make a great effort over myself; and if this letter has little order and sequence, you must be sufficiently sensible of my painful situation to grant me some indulgence.

Permit me, first, to protest against the first sentence of your letter. I venture to say that I have abused neither your confidence nor the innocence of Mademoiselle de Volanges; in my actions I respected both. These alone depended on me; and when you would render me responsible for an involuntary sentiment, I am not afraid to add that that which Mademoiselle your daughter has inspired in me is of a kind which may be displeasing to you but cannot offend you. Upon this subject, which touches me more than I can say, I wish for no other judge than you, and my letters for my witnesses.

You forbid me to present myself at your house in future, and doubtless I shall submit to everything which it shall please you to order on this subject: but will not this sudden and total absence give as much cause for the remarks which you would avoid as the order which, for that very same reason; you did not wish to leave at your door? I insist all the more on this point, in that it is far more important for Mademoiselle de Volanges than for me. I beg you then to weigh everything attentively, and not to permit your severity to lessen your prudence. Persuaded that the simple interest of Mademoiselle your daughter will dictate your resolves, I shall await fresh orders from you.

Meanwhile, in case you should permit me to pay you my court sometimes, I undertake, Madame (and you can count on my promise), not to abuse the opportunity by attempting to speak privately with Mademoiselle de Volanges, or to send any letter to her. The fear of compromising her reputation decides me to this sacrifice; and the happiness of sometimes seeing her will be my reward.

This paragraph of my letter is also the only reply that I can make to what you tell me as to the fate you reserve for Mademoiselle de Volanges, and which you would make dependent on my conduct. I should deceive you were I to promise you more. A vile seducer can adapt his plans to circumstances, and calculate upon events; but the love which animates me permits me only two sentiments, courage and constancy. What, I! consent to be forgotten by Mademoiselle de Volanges, to forget her myself! No, no, never! I will be faithful to her, she has received my vow, and I renew it this day. Forgive me, Madame, I am losing myself, I must return.

There remains one other matter to discuss with you; that of the letters which you demand from me. I am truly pained to have to add a refusal to the wrongs which you already accuse me of: but I beg you, listen to my reasons, and deign to remember, in order to appreciate them, that the only consolation of my unhappiness at having lost your friendship is the hope of retaining your esteem.

The letters of Mademoiselle de Volanges, always so precious to me, have become doubly so at present. They are the solitary good thing which remains to me; they alone retrace for me a sentiment which is all the charm of life to me. However, you may believe me, I should not hesitate an instant in making the sacrifice, and my regret at being deprived of them would yield to my desire of proving to you my respectful deference; but considerations more powerful restrain me, and I assure you that you yourself cannot blame me for them.

You have, it is true, the secret of Mademoiselle de Volanges; but permit me to say that I am authorized to believe it is the result of surprise and not of confidence.dg I do not pretend to blame a proceeding which is, perhaps, authorized by maternal solicitude.dh I respect your rights, but they do not extend so far as to dispense me from my duties. The most sacred of all is never to betray the confidence which is entrusted to you. It would be to fail in this to expose to the eyes of another the secrets of a heart which did but wish to reveal them to mine. If Mademoiselle your daughter consents to confide them to you, let her speak; her letters are of no use to you. If she wishes, on the contrary, to lock her secret within herself, you doubtless cannot expect me to be the person to instruct you.

As for the mystery in which you desire this incident to be buried, rest assured, Madame, that, in all that concerns Mademoiselle de Volanges, I can rival even a mother’s heart. To complete my work of removing all cause for anxiety from you, I have foreseen everything. This precious deposit, which bore hitherto the inscription: Papers to be burned, carries now the words: Papers belonging to Madame de Volanges. The course which I have taken should prove to you also that my refusal does not refer to any fear that you might find in these letters one single sentiment with which you could personally find fault.

This, Madame, is indeed a long letter. It will not have been long enough, if it leaves you the least doubt as to the honesty of my sentiments, my very sincere regret at having displeased you, and the profound respect with which I have the honor to be, etc.