Dangerous Liaisons —78—


YOU SEEM SURPRISED AT my behavior, Monsieur, and within an ace of asking me to account to you for it, as though you had the right to blame it. I confess that I should have thought it was rather I who was authorized to be astonished and to complain; but, since the refusal contained in your last letter, I have adopted the course of wrapping myself in an indifference which affords no ground for remarks or reproaches. However, as you ask me for enlightenment, and I, thanks be to Heaven, am conscious of naught within me which should prevent my granting your request, I am quite willing to enter once more into an explanation with you.

Anyone reading your letters would believe me to be fantastic or unjust. I think it is not in my deserts that anyone should have this opinion of me; it seems to me, above all, that you, less than any other, have cause to form it. Doubtless, you felt that, in requiring my justification, you forced me to recall all that has passed between us. Apparently, you thought you had only to gain by this examination: as I, on my side, believe I have nothing to lose by it, at least in your eyes, I do not fear to undertake it. Perhaps, it is indeed the only means of discovering which of us has the right to complain of the other.

To start, Monsieur, from the day of your arrival in this château, you will admit, I suppose, that your reputation, at least, authorized me to employ a certain reserve with you; and that I might have confined myself to the bare expression of the coldest politeness, without fearing to be taxed with excessive prudery. You yourself would have treated me with indulgence, and would have thought it natural that a woman so little formed should not have the necessary merits to appreciate yours. That, surely, had been the part of prudence; and it would have cost me the less to follow in that, I will not conceal from you, when Madame de Rosemonde informed me of your arrival, I had need to remind myself of my friendship for her, and of her own for you, not to betray how greatly this news annoyed me.

I admit willingly that you showed yourself at first under a more favorable aspect than I had imagined; but you will agree, in your turn, that it lasted but a little while, and you were soon tired of a constraint for which, apparently, you did not find yourself sufficiently compensated by the advantageous notion it had given me of you. It was then that, abusing my good faith, my feeling of security, you were not afraid to pester me with a sentiment by which you could not doubt but that I should be offended; and I, while you were occupied in aggravating your errors by repeating them, sought a reason for forgetting them, by offering you the opportunity of, at least in part, retrieving them. My request was so just that you yourself thought you ought not to refuse it; but making a right out of my indulgence, you profited by it to ask for a permission which, without a doubt, I ought not to have granted you, but which, however, you obtained. Conditions were attached to it: you have kept no one of them; and your correspondence has been of such a kind that each one of your letters made it my duty not to reply to you. It was at the very moment when your obstinacy was forcing me to send you away from me that, by a perhaps culpable condescension, I attempted the only means which could permit me to be concerned with you: but what value has virtuous sentiment in your eyes? Friendship you despise; and, in your mad intoxication, counting shame and misery for naught, you seek only for pleasures and for victims.

As frivolous in your proceedings as inconsequent ed in your reproaches, you forget your promises, or rather you make a jest of violating them; and, after consenting to go away from me, you return here without being recalled; without thought for my prayers or my arguments; without even having the consideration to inform me, you were not afraid to expose me to a surprise whose effect, although assuredly very simple, might have been interpreted to my detriment by the persons who surrounded us. Far from seeking to distract from or to dissipate the moment of embarrassment you had occasioned, you seem to have given all your pains to increase it. At table you choose your seat precisely at the side of my own; a slight indisposition forces me to leave before the others, and, instead of respecting my solitude, you contrive that all the company should come to trouble it. On my return to the drawing room, I cannot make a step but I find you at my side; if I say a word, it is always you who reply to me. The most indifferent remark serves you for a pretext to bring up a conversation which I refuse to hear, which might even compromise me; for, in short, Monsieur, whatever the address you may bring to bear, I think that what I understand may also be understood by the others.

Forced thus to take refuge in immobility and silence, you nonetheless continue to persecute me; I cannot raise my eyes without encountering yours. I am incessantly compelled to avert my gaze; and by an incomprehensible inconsequence you draw upon me the eyes of the company at a moment when I would have even wished it possible to escape from my own.

And you complain of my behavior! and you are surprised at my eagerness to avoid you! Ah, blame rather my indulgence; be surprised that I did not leave at the moment of your arrival. I ought, perhaps, to have done so, and you will compel me to this violent, but necessary, course, if you do not finally cease your offensive pursuit. No, I do not forget, I never shall forget what I owe to myself, what I owe to the ties I have formed, which I respect and cherish; and I pray you to believe that, if ever I found myself reduced to the unhappy choice of sacrificing them, or of sacrificing myself, I should not hesitate an instant. Adieu, Monsieur.