Dangerous Liaisons —99—


A FEW MORE SMALL incidents, my lovely friend; but scenes merely, no more actions. Arm yourself, therefore, with patience, assume a stock of it even: for while my Présidente advances so imperceptibly, your pupil retreats, which is worse still! Well, well! I have wit enough to amuse myself with these vexations. Truly, I am acclimatizing myself mighty well to my sojourn here; and I may say that I have not experienced a single moment of ennui in my old aunt’s dreary château. In fact, do I not find here enjoyment, privation, uncertainty, and hope? What more has one upon a greater stage? Spectators? Ah, let me be, they will not be lacking! If they do not see me at work, I will show them my labor accomplished; they will only have to admire and applaud. Yes, they will applaud; for at last I can predict with certainty the moment of my austere Puritan’s fall. I assisted this evening at the death struggle of virtue. Sweet frailty will now rule in its stead. I fix the time at a date no later than our next interview: but already I hear you crying out against vainglory. To announce one’s victory, to boast in advance! Prithee, calm yourself! To prove my modesty, I will begin with the story of my defeat.

In very truth, your pupil is a most ridiculous little person! She is, indeed, a child, whom one should treat as such, and whom one would favor by doing no more than putting her under penance! Would you believe that, after what passed between us, the day before yesterday, after the amicable manner in which we separated yesterday morning, when I sought to return in the evening, as she had agreed, I found her door bolted on the inside? What say you to that? Such childishness one sometimes meets with on the eve: but on the morrow! Is it not amusing?

I did not, however, laugh at it at first; I had never felt so strongly the imperiousness of my character. Assuredly, I was going to this rendezvous without pleasure, and solely out of politeness. My own bed, of which I had great need, seemed to me, for the moment, preferable to anyone else’s, and I had dragged myself from it with regret. No sooner, however, had I met with an obstacle than I burned to overcome it; I was humiliated, above all, that a child should have tricked me. I withdrew, then, in considerable ill humor; and, with the intention of concerning myself no further with this silly child and her affairs, I had written her a note, on the spur of the moment, which I intended to give her today, and in which I accounted her at her just value. But night brings counsel, as they say; methought this morning that, having no choice of distractions here, I had better keep this one: I suppressed, therefore, the severe letter. Since reflecting upon it, I wonder that I can ever have entertained the idea of concluding an adventure before holding in my hands the wherewithal to ruin the heroine. Observe, however, whither a first impulse impels us! Happy, my fair friend, is he who has trained himself, as you have, never to give way to one! In fine, I have postponed my vengeance; I have made this sacrifice to your intentions toward Gercourt.

Now that I am no longer angry, I see your pupil’s conduct only in a ridiculous light. In fact, I should be glad to know what she hopes to gain thereby! As for myself, I am at a loss: if it be only to defend herself, you must admit that she is somewhat late in starting. Someday she will have to tell me herself the key to this enigma. I have a great desire to know it. It may be, perhaps, only that she found herself fatigued ? Frankly, that might well be possible: for, without a doubt, she is still ignorant that the darts of love, like the lance of Achilles, bear their own remedy for the ills they cause.2 But nay, by the little wry face she pulled all day, I would wager that there enters into it … repentance… there … something… like virtue…. Virtue! It becomes her indeed to show it! Ah, let her leave it to the woman veritably born to it, to the only one who knows how to embellish it, who could make it lovable! … Pardon, my fair friend: but it is this very evening that there occurred between Madame de Tourvel and myself the scene of which I am about to send you an account, and I still feel some emotion at it. I have need to do myself violence, in order to distract me from the impression which it made upon me; ’tis even to aid me in this that I have sat down to write to you. Something must be pardoned to this first moment.

It is some days, already, since we are agreed, Madame de Tourvel and I, upon our sentiments; we only dispute about words. It was always, in truth, her friendship which responded to my love; but this conventional language did not change things in substance; and, had we remained thus, I should have gone, perhaps, less quickly, but not less surely. Already even there was no more question of driving me away, as she had wished at first; and as for the interviews which we have daily, if I devote my cares to offering her the occasions, she devotes hers to seizing them. As it is ordinarily when walking that our little rendezvous occur, the shocking weather, which set in today, left me no hope; I was even really vexed by it; I did not foresee how much I was to gain from this contretemps.

Being unable to go out, they started play after rising from table; as I play little, and am no longer indispensable, I chose this time to go to my own room, with no other intention than to wait there until the game was likely to be over. I was on my way to rejoin the company, when I met the charming woman; she was about to enter her apartment, and, whether from imprudence or weakness, she said to me in her gentle voice, “Where are you going? There is nobody in the salon.” I needed no more, as you may believe, to try and enter her room; I met with less resistance than I expected. It is true that I had taken the precaution to commence the conversation at the door, and to commence it indifferently;gj but hardly were we settled, than I brought back the real subject, and spoke of my love for my friend. Her first reply, though simple, seemed to me sufficiently expressive: “Oh, I pray you,” said she, “do not let us speak of that here”; and she trembled. Poor woman! She sees she is lost.

However, she was wrong to be afraid. For some time past, assured of success some day or other, and seeing that she was spending so much strength in useless struggles, I had resolved to husband my own, and to wait, without further effort, until she should surrender from lassitude. You are quite aware that here I require a complete triumph, and that I wish to owe nothing to opportunity. It was, indeed, owing to this preconceived plan, and in order to be pressing without engaging myself too far, that I came back to this word love, so obstinately declined: sure that my ardor was sufficiently believed in, I tried a tone more tender. Her refusal no longer put me out, it pained me: did not my sensitive friend owe me some consolation ?

As she consoled me, withal, one hand lingered in my own, the lovely form leaned upon my arm, and we were drawn extremely near. You have surely remarked, in such a situation, how, in proportion to the weakening of the defense, entreaties and refusals pass at closer quarters; how the head is averted and the gaze cast down; while remarks, always uttered in a weak voice, become rare and intermittent. These precious symptoms announce, in no equivocal manner, the soul’s consent: but it has rarely yet extended to the senses; I even hold that it is always dangerous to attempt just then any too marked assault; because, this state of self-abandonment being never without a very sweet pleasure, one knows not how to dispel it, without giving rise to a humor which is invariably in the favor of the defense.

But, in the present case, prudence was all the more necessary to me in that I had, above all, to dread the alarm which this forgetfulness of herself could not fail to induce in my gentle dreamer. Thus, this avowal which I demanded, I did not even require that it should be pronounced; a glance would suffice; only one glance, and I was happy.

My lovely friend, her fine eyes were, in fact, raised to mine; her celestial mouth even uttered, “Well yes, I …” But on a sudden her gaze was withdrawn, her voice failed, and this adorable woman fell into my arms. Hardly had I had time to receive her, when, extricating herself with convulsive force, her eyes wild, her hands raised to Heaven… “God … O my God, save me!” she cried; and at once, swifter than lightning, she was on her knees, ten paces from me. I could hear her ready to suffocate. I advanced to her assistance ; but, seizing one of my hands, which she bedewed with tears, sometimes even embracing my knees: “Yes, it shall be you,” she said, “it shall be you who will save me! You do not wish my death, leave me; save me; leave me; in the name of God, leave me!” And these inconsequent utterances barely escaped through her redoubled sobs. Meanwhile, she held me with a strength which did not permit me to withdraw: then, collecting my own, I raised her in my arms. At the same instant, her tears ceased; she said no more: all her limbs stiffened, and violent convulsions succeeded to this storm.

I was, I confess, deeply moved, and I believe I should have consented to her request, had not circumstances compelled me to do so. The fact remains that, after rendering her some assistance, I left her as she prayed me, and I congratulate myself on this. I have already almost received the reward.

I expected that, as on the day of my first declaration, she would not appear that evening. But, toward eight o‘clock, she came down to the salon, and only informed the company that she had been greatly indisposed. Her face was dejected, her voice feeble, her attitude constrained; but her gaze was soft, and was often fixed upon me. Her refusal to play having even compelled me to take her place, she took up hers at my side. During supper, she remained alone in the salon; when we returned methought I saw that she had wept: to make certain, I told her that I feared she still felt the effects of her indisposition, to which she answered me obligingly, “The complaintgk does not go as quickly as it comes!” Finally, when we retired, I gave her my hand; and, at the door of her apartment, she pressed mine with vigor. ’Tis true, this movement seemed to me to have something involuntary; but so much the better; it is a proof the more of my empire.

I would wager that at present she is enchanted to have reached this stage; the cost is paid; there is nothing left but to enjoy. Perhaps, while I am writing to you, she is already occupied with this soft thought! And even if she is employed, on the contrary, on a fresh project of defense, do we not know well what becomes of all such plans? I ask you then, can it go farther than our next interview? I quite expect, by the way, that there will be some ceremony about the surrender; very good! But, once the first step taken, do these austere prudes ever know where to stop? Their love is a veritable explosion; resistance lends it greater force. My shy Puritan would run after me, if I ceased to run after her.

In short, my lovely friend, I shall on an early day be with you, to claim fulfillment of your word. You have not forgotten, doubtless, what you promised me after success: that infidelity to your Chevalier ? Are you ready? For myself, I desire it as much as if we had never known each other. For the rest, to know you is perhaps a reason for desiring it more:

Justice, not courtesy, disposes me.gl

Moreover it shall be the first infidelity I will make to my serious conquest, and I promise you to profit by the first pretext to be absent for four-and-twenty hours from her. It shall be her punishment for keeping me so long away from you. Do you know that this adventure has occupied me for more than two months? Yes, two months and three days; ’tis true that I include tomorrow, since it will not be truly consummated till then. That reminds me that Madame de B— held out for three whole months. I am most pleased to see that frank coquetry possesses more power of resistance than austere virtue.

Adieu, my lovely friend; I must leave you, for it is mighty late. This letter has led me on farther than I had intended; but, as I am sending to Paris tomorrow, I was fain to profit by it to let you participate one day sooner in the joy of your friend.