Dangerous Liaisons —77—


WHENCE, MADAME, CAN ARISE the cruel pains which you are at to shun me? How can it be that the most tender zeal on my part meets on yours only with the treatment which one would barely permit oneself with the man against whom one had the greatest cause to complain? What! Love calls me back to your feet; and when a happy chance places me at your side, you prefer to feign indisposition, to alarm your friends, rather than consent to remain near me! How many times, yesterday, did you not turn away your eyes to deprive me of the favor of a glance! And if for one single moment I was able to see less severity there, that moment was so short that it seemed as though you wished less to have me enjoy it than to make me feel what I should lose by being deprived of it.

That is not, I venture to say, either the treatment which love deserves, or that which friendship may be allowed; and yet, of these two sentiments, you know whether the one does not animate me; and the other I was, it seems to me, authorized to believe that you did not withhold. This precious friendship, of which you doubtless thought me worthy, since you were kind enough to offer it me—what have I done that I should lose it since? Could I have damaged myself by my confidence, and will you punish me for my frankness? At least, have you no fear lest you abuse the one and the other? In effect, was it not to the bosom of my friend that I entrusted the secret of my heart? Was it not face to face with her alone that I thought myself obliged to refuse conditions which I had only to accept in order to obtain the facility for leaving them unfulfilled, and perhaps of abusing them to my advantage? Would you, in short, by a rigor so undeserved, force me to believe that I had needed but to deceive you in order to obtain greater indulgence?

I do not repent of a conduct which I owed you, as I owed it to myself; but by what fatality does each praiseworthy action of mine become the signal for a fresh misfortune?

It was after giving occasion for the only praise you have ever yet deigned to accord my conduct that I had to groan, for the first time, over the misfortune of having displeased you. It was after proving my perfect submission by depriving myself of the happiness of seeing you, simply to reassure your delicacy, that you wished to break off all correspondence with me, to rob me of that feeble compensation for a sacrifice which you had required, and to take from me even the very love which alone had given you the right to ask it. It is, in short, after having spoken to you with a sincerity which even the interest of that love could not abate that you shun me today, like some dangerous seducer whose perfidy you have found out.

Will you, then, never grow weary of being unjust? At least, tell me what new wrongs can have urged you to such severity, and do not refuse to dictate to me the orders which you wish me to obey; when I pledge myself to fulfill them, is it too great a pretension to ask that I may know them?