Dangerous Liaisons —96—


I WILL WAGER THAT since your adventure, you have been daily expecting my compliments and praises; I doubt not even that you feel a trifle out of humor at my long silence: but what do you expect? I have always thought that, when one has naught but praise to give a woman, one may be at one’s ease about her, and occupy oneself with other matters. However, I thank you on my own account and congratulate you on yours. I am even ready to make you completely happy by admitting that this time you have surpassed my expectation. After that, let us see if, on my side, I have come up to yours, at least in part.

It is not of Madame de Tourvel that I want to talk to you; her too laggard progress, I know, displeases you. You only love accomplished facts. Spun-out scenes weary you; for my part I had never tasted such pleasure as I find in these feigned delays. Yes, I love to see, to watch this prudent woman, engaged, without her perceiving it, on a course which admits of no return, whose rapid and dangerous declivity carries her on in spite of herself and forces her to follow me. Then, terrified at the danger she runs, she would fain halt, but cannot hold herself in. Her skill and caution can indeed shorten her steps; yet they must inevitably succeed one another. Sometimes, not daring to behold the danger, she shuts her eyes and, letting herself go, abandons herself to my care. More often, a fresh alarm reanimates her efforts: in her mortal terror she would attempt once more to turn back; she wastes her strength in painfully overcoming a short distance; and soon a magic power replaces her nearer to that danger which she had vainly sought to fly. Then, having only me for guide and support, with no more thought to reproach me for an inevitable fall, she implores me to retard it. Fervent prayers, humble supplications, all that mortals in their terror offer to the divinity—it is I who receive them from her; and you would have me, deaf to her entreaties, and myself destroying the cult which she pays me, employ, to precipitate her, the power which she invokes for her support! Ah, leave me at least the time to observe those touching combats between love and virtue.

How then! Do you think that the same spectacle which makes you run eagerly to the theatre, which you applaud there with fury, is less engrossing in real life? Those sentiments of a pure and tender soul which dreads the happiness which it desires, and never ceases to defend itself even when it ceases to resist, you listen to with enthusiasm; should they be valueless only to him who has called them forth? That, however, is the delicious enjoyment which this heavenly woman offers me daily; and you reproach me for relishing its sweetness! Ah, the time will come only too soon when, degraded by her fall, she will be to me no more than an ordinary woman.

But, in talking of her to you, I forget that I did not want to talk to you of her. I do not know what power constrains me, drags me back to her ceaselessly, even when I outrage her. Away with her dangerous idea; let me become myself again to treat a gayer subject. It concerns your pupil, who is now become my own, and I hope that here you will recognize me.

Some days ago, being better treated by my gentle Puritan, and in consequence less engrossed by her, I remarked that the little Volanges was, in fact, extremely pretty, and, that if there was folly in being in love with her, like Danceny, there was, perhaps, no less on my part in not seeking from her a distraction rendered necessary by my solitude. It seemed to me just, moreover, to repay myself for the care I was giving her: I reminded myself as well that you had offered her to me, before Danceny had any pretensions; and I considered myself justified in claiming certain rights on a property which he only possessed because I had refused and relinquished it. The little person’s pretty face, her fresh mouth, her infantile air, her very gaucherie, fortified these sage resolutions; I consequently resolved on action, and my enterprise has been crowned by success.

You must be already wondering by what means I have so soon supplanted the favored lover; what form of seduction befits such youth and such inexperience. Spare yourself the trouble; I employed none at all. Whereas you, wielding skilfully the weapons of your sex, triumph by subtlety, I, rendering his imprescriptible rightsgd to man, subjugated by authority. Sure of my prey if I could get within reach of it, I only required a ruse to approach her; and even that which I employed barely merits the name.

I profited by the first letter which I received from Danceny for his fair; and, after having let her know of it by the concerted signal, instead of employing my skill to get it into her hands, I used it to find a lack of means to do so: the impatience to which this gave rise I feigned to share; and, after having caused the ill, I pointed out the remedy.

The young person occupies a chamber one door of which opens into the corridor; but, naturally, the mother had taken away the key. It was merely a question of obtaining possession of this. Nothing more easy of execution; I only asked to have it at my disposal for two hours, and I answered for the procural of one similar to it. Then, correspondence, interviews, nocturnal rendezvous—everything became easy and safe: however, would you believe it? The timid child took alarm and refused. Another man would have been in despair; for my part, I only saw there the occasion for a more piquantge pleasure. I wrote to Danceny to complain of this refusal, and I did it so well that our blockhead had no peace until he had obtained from his timorous mistress, and even urged her, that she should grant my request and so surrender herself utterly to my discretion.

I was mighty pleased, I confess, at having thus changed the rôles, and induced the young man to do for me what he calculated I should do for him. This notion doubled, in my eyes, the value of the adventure: thus, as soon as I had the precious key, I hastened to make use of it; this was last night.

After assuring myself that all was quiet in the château, armed with my dark lantern, and in the costume, befitting the hour, which the circumstance demanded, I paid my first visit to your pupil. I had caused all preparations to be made (and that by herself) to permit of a noiseless entrance. She was in her first sleep, the sleep of her age; so that I reached her bedside before she had awakened. At first I was tempted to go even farther, and try to pass for a dream; but, fearing the effects of surprise and the noise which it entails, I preferred to awake the lovely sleeper with precautions, and did in fact succeed in preventing the cry which I feared.

After calming her first fears, as I had not come there for conversation, I risked a few liberties. Doubtless she has not been well taught at her convent to how many varied perils timid innocence is exposed, and all that it has to guard if it would not be surprised; for, devoting all her attention, all her strength, to defending herself from a kiss, which was only a feigned attack, she left all the rest without defense; who could fail to draw profit from it! I changed my tactics accordingly, and promptly took the position. Here we both alike had thought ourselves to be lost: the little girl, in a mighty scare, tried to cry out in good earnest; luckily her voice was drowned by tears. She had thrown herself upon the bell rope; but my adroitness restrained her arm in time.

“What would you do,” I asked her then; “ruin yourself utterly? Let anyone come: what does it matter to me? Whom will you persuade that I am not here with your consent? Who else but you can have furnished me with the means of entering? And this key, which I have obtained from you, which I could only obtain from you—will you undertake to explain its use?”

This short harangue calmed neither her grief nor her anger; but it brought about her submission. I know not if I had the accents of eloquence; it is true, at any rate, that I had not its gestures. With one hand employed in force, the other in love, what orator could pretend to grace in such a situation? If you rightly imagine it, you will admit that at least it was favorable to the attack: but, as for me, I have no head at all; and, as you say, the most simple woman, a schoolgirl, can lead me like a child.

This one, while still in high dudgeongf felt that she must adopt some course, and enter into a compromise. As prayers found me inexorable, she had to resort to bargaining. You think I sold the important post dearly: no, I promised everything for a kiss. It is true that, the kiss once obtained, I did not keep my promise: but I had good reasons. Had we agreed whether it was to be taken or given? By dint of bargaining, we fell into an agreement over the second; and this one, it was said, was to be received. Then, guiding her timid arms round my body, and pressing her more amorously with one of mine, the soft kiss was effectually received; nay excellently, nay perfectly received: so much so, indeed, that love itself could have done no better. Such good faith deserved a reward; thus I at once granted her request. My hand was withdrawn; but I know not by what chance I found myself in its place. You will suppose me then mighty eager, energetic, will you not? By no means. I have acquired a taste for delay, I have told you. Once sure of arriving, why take the journey with such haste? Seriously, I was mighty pleased to observe once more the power of opportunity, and I found it here devoid of all extraneous aid. It had love to fight against, however, and love sustained by modesty and shame, and above all, fortified by the temper which I had excited, and which had much effect. It was opportunity alone; but it was there, always offered, always present, and love was absent.

To verify my observations, I was cunning enough to employ no more force than could be resisted. Only, if my charming enemy, abusing my good nature, seemed inclined to escape me, I constrained her by that same fear whose happy effects I had just experienced. Well, well! without any other further trouble, the languishing fair, forgetful of her vows, began by yielding and ended by consenting: not that, after this first moment, there was not a return of mingled reproaches and tears; I am uncertain whether they were real or feigned: but, as ever happens, they ceased as soon as I busied myself in giving cause for them anew. Finally, from frailty to reproach, and reproach to frailty, we separated, well satisfied with one another, and equally agreed on the rendezvous tonight.

I did not retire to my own room until the break of day, and I was exhausted with fatigue and sleepiness: however, I sacrificed both to my desire to be present at breakfast this morning; I have a passion for watching faces on the day after. You can have no idea of this one. There was an embarrassment in the attitude! a difficulty in the gait! eyes always lowered, and so big, and so heavy! The face so round was elongated! Nothing could have been more amusing. And, for the first time, her mother, alarmed at this extreme alteration, displayed a most tender interest in her! And the Présidente too, who was very busy about her! Ah, those attentions of hers are only lent;gg a day will come when she will need them herself, and that day is not far distant. Adieu, my lovely friend.