Dangerous Liaisons —91—


IN CONSTERNATION AT YOUR letter, Madame, I am still ignorant as to how I can reply to it. Doubtless, if I needs must choose between your unhappiness and my own, it is for me to sacrifice myself, and I do not hesitate: but such important interests deserve, so it seems to me, to be, before all, investigated and discussed, and how can that be contrived, if we are to speak and see each other no more?

What! while the sweetest of sentiments unite us, shall an empty fear suffice to separate us, perhaps beyond return! In vain shall tender friendship and ardent love reclaim their rights: their voice shall not be heard: and why? What then is this pressing danger which besets you? Ah, believe me, such fears so lightly conceived are already, it seems to me, potent enough reasons for security.

Permit me to tell you that I find here traces of the unfavorable impressions that have been given you about me. One does not tremble before the man one esteems; one does not, above all, drive away him whom one has judged worthy of a certain friendship: it is the dangerous man whom one dreads and shuns.

Who, however, was ever more respectful and submissive than myself? Already, you may observe, I am circumspect in my language; I no longer permit myself those names so sweet, so dear to my heart, which it never ceases to give you in secret. It is no longer the faithful and unhappy lover, receiving the counsels and the consolations of a tender and sensitive friend; it is the accused before his judge, the slave before his master. Doubtless these new titles impose new duties; I pledge myself to fulfill them all. Listen to me, and, if you condemn me, I obey the verdict and I go. I promise more: do you prefer the tyranny which judges without a hearing? Do you feel you possess the courage to be unjust? Command, and I will still obey.

But this judgment, or this command, let me hear it from your own lips. And why, you will ask me in your turn. Ah, if you put this question, how little you know of love and of my heart! Is it nothing then to see you once again? Nay, when you shall have brought despair into my soul, perhaps one consoling glance will prevent me from succumbing to it. In short, if I must needs renounce the love, and the friendship, for which alone I exist, at least you shall see your work, and your pity will abide with me; even if I do not merit this slight favor, I am prepared, methinks, to pay dearly for the hope of obtaining it.

What! you are going to drive me from you! You consent, then, to our becoming strangers to one another! What am I saying? You desire it; and although you assure me that absence will not alter your sentiments, you do but urge my departure, in order to work more easily at their destruction. You speak already of replacing them by gratitude. Thus, the sentiment which an unknown would obtain from you for the most trivial service, or even your enemy for ceasing to injure you—this is what you offer to me! And you wish my heart to be satisfied with this! Interrogate your own; if your lover, if your friend came one day to talk to you of their gratitude, would you not say to them with indignation: Depart from me, you are in-grates?

I come to a stop, and beseech your indulgence. Pardon the expression of a grief to which you have given birth; it will not detract from my complete submission. But I conjure you, in my turn, in the name of those sweet sentiments which you yourself invoke, do not refuse to hear me; and in pity, at least, for the mortal distress in which you have plunged me, do not defer the moment long. Adieu, Madame.