Dangerous Liaisons —90—


I AM GREATLY DESIROUS, Monsieur, that this letter should not cause you any distress; or that, if it must do so, it may be at least softened by that which I experience in writing to you. You must know me well enough by this time to be well assured that it is not my wish to grieve you; but neither would you wish, doubtless, to plunge me into eternal despair. I conjure you then, in the name of the tender friendship which I have promised you, in the name, even, of the sentiments, perhaps more vivid, but assuredly not more sincere, which you have for me: let us cease to see one another; depart; and, in the meantime, let us shun all those private and too perilous interviews in which, forced by some inconceivable power, though I never succeed in saying what I wish to say to you, I pass my time in listening to what I never ought to hear.

Only yesterday, when you came to join me in the park,1 my sole intention was to tell you that which I am writing to you today; and yet, what did I do, but occupy myself with your love—your love-to which I am bound never to respond! Ah, for pity’s sake remove yourself from me!

Do not think that absence will ever alter my sentiments for you: how shall I ever succeed in overcoming them, when I have no longer the courage to combat them? You see, I tell you all; I fear less to confess my weakness than to succumb to it: but that control which I have lost over my feelings I shall retain over my actions; yes, I shall retain it, I am resolved, be it at the cost of my life.

Alas! the time is not far distant when I believed myself very sure of never having such struggles to undergo. I congratulated myself, I vaunted myself for this, perhaps overmuch. Heaven has punished, cruelly punished this pride: but, full of mercy, at the very moment when it strikes us it forewarns me again before a fall; and I should be doubly guilty if I continued to fail in prudence, warned as I am already that I have no more strength.

You have told me a hundred times that you would have none of a happiness purchased by my tears. Ah! let us speak no more of happiness, but leave me to regain some calm.

In acceding to my request, what fresh rights do you not acquire over my heart? And from those rights, founded upon virtue, I shall have no need to defend myself. What pleasure I shall take in my gratitude! I shall owe you the sweetness of tasting without remorse a delicious sentiment. At present, on the contrary, terrified by my sentiments, by my thoughts, I am equally afraid of occupying myself with either you or myself; the very idea of you alarms me: when I cannot escape from it, I combat it; I do not drive it from me, but I repel it.

Is it not better for both of us to put a stop to this state of trouble and anxiety? Oh, you, whose ever sensitive soul, even in the midst of its errors, has continued the friend of virtue, you will respect my painful situation, you will not reject my prayer! A sweeter, but not less tender interest will succeed to these violent agitations: then, breathing again through your benevolence, I shall cherish existence, and shall say, in the joy of my heart: This calm, I owe it to my friend.

In causing you to undergo a few deprivations, which I do not impose upon you, but which I beg of you, will you think you are buying the end of my torments at too dear a price? Ah! if, to make you happy, I had but to consent to unhappiness, you may believe me, I would not hesitate for a moment…. But to become guilty! … No, my friend, no; rather would I die a thousand deaths. Already, assailed by shame, on the eve of remorse, I dread both others and myself; I blush in the midst of company, and tremble in solitude; I lead only a life of pain; I shall have no peace unless you consent. My most praiseworthy resolutions do not suffice to reassure me; I formed this one yesterday, and yet I have passed the night in tears.

Behold your friend, she whom you love, suppliant and confused, begging you for innocence and repose. Ah, God! But for you, would she ever have been reduced to so humiliating a request? I reproach you with nothing; I feel too strongly, myself, how difficult it is to resist an imperious sentiment. A complaint is not a reproach. Do, out of generosity, what I do from duty; and to all the sentiments which you have inspired in me, I will add that of eternal gratitude. Adieu, Monsieur, adieu.