Dangerous Liaisons —68—


HOW, MADAME, AM I to answer your last letter? How dare be true, when my sincerity may ruin my cause with you? No matter, I must; I will have the courage. I tell myself, I repeat to myself, that it is better to deserve you than to obtain you: and, must you deny me forever a happiness that I shall never cease to desire, I must at least prove to you that my heart is worthy of it.

What a pity, that, as you say, I have turned away from my errors! With what transports of joy I should have read that same letter, to which I tremble today to reply. You speak to me therein with frankness, you display me confidence, and you offer me your friendship: what good things, Madame, and how I regret that I can not profit by them! Why am I no longer what I was?

If I were, indeed, if I felt for you only an ordinary fancy, that light fancy which is the child of seduction and pleasure, which today, however, is christened love, I should hasten to extract advantage from all that I could obtain. With scant delicacy as to means, provided that they procured me success, I should encourage your frankness from my need of finding you out; I should desire your confidence with the design of betraying it; I should accept your friendship with the hope of beguiling it…. What, Madame! does this picture alarm you? … Ah, well, it would be a true picture of me, were I to tell you that I consented to be no more than your friend.

What, I! I consent to share with any one a sentiment which has emanated from your soul! If I ever tell you so, do not believe me. From that moment I should seek to deceive you; I might desire you still, but I should assuredly love you no longer.

It is not that amiable frankness, sweet confidence, sensible friendship are without value in my eyes…. But love! True love, and such as you inspire, by uniting all these sentiments, by giving them more energy, would not know how to lend itself, like them, to that tranquillity, to that coldness of soul, which permits comparisons, which even suffers preferences. No, Madame, I will not be your friend; I will love you with the most tender, even the most ardent love, although the most respectful. You can drive it to despair, but you cannot annihilate it.

By what right do you pretend to dispose of a heart whose homage you refuse? By what refinement of cruelty do you rob me of even the happiness of loving you? That happiness is mine; it is independent of you; I shall know how to defend it. If it is the source of my ills, it is also their remedy.

No, once more, no. Persist in your cruel refusals, but leave me my love. You take pleasure in making me unhappy! ah, well! be it so, endeavor to wear out my courage, I shall know how to force you at least to decide my fate; and perhaps some day you will render me more justice. It is not that I hope ever to make you susceptible: but, without being persuaded, you will be convinced; you will say to yourself: I judged him ill.

To put it rightly, it is to yourself that you are unjust. To know you without loving you, to love you without being constant, are two things which are equally impossible; and, in spite of the modesty which adorns you, it must be easier for you to feel pity than surprise at the sentiments which you arouse. For me, whose only merit is that I have known how to appreciate you, I will not lose that; and far from accepting your insidious offers, I renew at your feet my vow to love you always.