Dangerous Liaisons

Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

Preview: Issue 1 of 46

Translated by Thomas Moore.

LETTER I.

CECILIA VOLANGES to SOPHIA CARNAY, at the Convent of the Ursulines of ----.

You see, my dear friend, I keep my word, and that dress does not totally take up all my time; I shall ever have some left for you. In this single day I have seen more finery of attire, than in the four years we have spent together; and I believe the haughty Tanville will be more mortified at my first visit, when I shall certainly desire to see her, than she used to be every time she came to see us in fiochi. Mamma advises with me in every thing; she behaves to me no longer as a boarder in a convent. I have a chamber-maid to myself; a chamber and a closet of my own, and a very pretty scrutoire, of which I keep the key, and where I can lock up every thing. My Mamma has told me, I must be with her every morning at her levee; that it would be sufficient to have my head dressed by dinner, because we should always be alone, and that then she would each day tell me what time I should come to her apartment in the evening. The remainder of my time is at my own disposal; I have my harpsichord, my drawings, and books, just as in the convent, only that the mother abbess is not here to scold. And I may always be idle, if I please: but as I have not my dear Sophy to chat and laugh with, I am as well pleased with some occupation. It is not yet five, and I am not to go to Mamma till seven: what a deal of time, if I had any thing to tell you! but nothing has been yet mentioned to me of any consequence: and if it were not for the preparation I see making, and the number of women employed for me, I should be apt to think they have no notion of my nuptials, and that it was one of old Josephine's tales. Yet Mamma having so often told me, that a young lady should remain in a convent, until she was on the point of marriage, and having now brought me home, I am apt to think Josephine right.

A coach has just stopped at our door, and Mamma has sent for me. If it should be my intended!--I am not dressed, and am all in agitation; my heart flutters. I asked my maid, if she knew who was with my Mamma? "Why," says she, laughing, "it is Mr. C----." I really believe it is he. I will certainly return and write you the whole; however, that's his name. I must not make them wait. Adieu, for a moment!

How you will laugh at your poor Cecilia, my dear Sophy! I'm quite ashamed! But you would have been deceived as well as I. On entering Mamma's room, I saw a gentleman in black, standing close by her, I saluted him as well as I could, and remained motionless. You may guess, I examined him from head to foot. "Madam," said he to Mamma, "this is a most charming young lady, and I am extremely sensible of your goodness." So positive a declaration made me tremble all over; and not being able to support me, I threw myself in an armed chair, quite red and disconcerted. In an instant he was at my knees, and then you may judge how poor Cecilia's head was bewildered; I instantly started up and shrieked, just as on the day of the great thunder. Mamma burst out laughing, saying, "Well, what's the matter? Sit down, and give Mr. ---- your foot." Thus, my dear friend, Mr. ---- turns out to be my shoemaker. You can't conceive how much I was ashamed; happily, there was no one but Mamma present. I am, however, resolved when I am married he shall not be my shoemaker. Well! am I not now much the wiser? Farewell! it is almost six, and my maid says it is time to dress. Adieu! my dear Sophy; I love you as much as I did at the convent.

P. S. I don't know whom to send with this, and shall wait till Josephine calls.

Paris, Aug. 3, 17--.

LETTER II.

The MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL to the VISCOUNT VALMONT, at the Castle of ----.

Return, my dear Viscount, return! How can you think of idling your days with an old aunt, whose fortune is already settled on you! Set out the moment you receive this letter, for I want you much. A most enchanting idea has just struck me, and I wish to confide the execution of it to you.

This hint should be sufficient, and you should think yourself so highly honoured by my choice, as to fly to receive my orders on your knees: but my favours are thrown away on one who no longer sets a value on them; and you presume upon my kindness, where the alternative must be eternal hatred, or excessive indulgence. I will acquaint you with my scheme; but you, like a true knight errant, must first swear to undertake no other adventure until this is achieved. It is worthy a hero. You will at once satiate love and revenge. It will be an additional exploit to your memoirs; yes, your memoirs, for I will have them published, and I will undertake the task. But to return to what more immediately concerns us. Madame de Volanges intends to marry her daughter: it is yet a secret; but she yesterday informed me of it. And whom do you think she has chosen for her son-in-law? Count Gercourt. Who could have thought I should have been allied to Gercourt? I am provoked beyond expression at your stupidity! Well, don't you guess yet? Oh, thou essence of dulness! What, have you then pardoned him the affair of Madame the Intendante? And I, monster! have I not more reason for revenge? But I shall resume my temper; the prospect of retaliation, recalls my serenity.

You and I have been often tormented with the important idea framed by Gercourt, of the lady he intended honour with his hand, and his ridiculous presumption of being exempt from the unavoidable fate of married men. You know his foolish prepossessions in favour of conventual education, and his still more weak prejudices for women of a fair complexion: and I really believe, notwithstanding Volanges' sixty thousand livres a year, he never would have thought of this girl, had she not been black eyed, or not educated in a convent.

Let us convince him, he is a most egregious fool, as one day or other he must be: but that's not the business; the jest will be, should he act upon so absurd an opinion. How we should be diverted the next day with his boasts! for boast he will: and if once you properly form this little girl, it will be astonishing if Gercourt does not become, like so many others, the standing ridicule of Paris. The heroine of this new romance merits all your attention; she is really handsome, just turn'd of fifteen, and a perfect rose-bud; awkward as you could wish, and totally unpolished: but you men don't mind such trifles; a certain languishing air, which promises a great deal, added to my recommendation of her, leaves only to you to thank me and obey. You will receive this letter to-morrow morning: I require to see you at seven in the evening. I shall not be visible to any one else till eight, not even to my chevalier, who happens to be my reigning favourite for the present; he has not a head for such great affairs. You see I am not blinded by love. I shall set you at liberty at eight, and you'll return to sup with the charming girl at ten, for the mother and daughter sup with me. Farewell! it is past noon. Now for other objects.

Paris, Aug. 4, 17--.

LETTER III.

CECILIA VOLANGES to SOPHIA CARNAY.

I have yet no news for my dear friend. Mamma had a great deal of company at supper last night. Notwithstanding the strong inclination I had to make my observations, especially among the men, I was far from being entertained. The whole company could not keep their eyes from me; they whispered; I could observe plainly they were speaking of me, and that made me blush; I could not help it: I wish I could; for I observed when any one looked at the other ladies they did not blush, or the rouge they put on prevented their blushes from being seen. It must be very difficult not to change countenance when a man fixes his eyes on you.

What gave me the most uneasiness was, not to know what they thought of me; however, I think I heard the word pretty two or three times: but I'm sure I very distinctly heard that of awkward; and that must be very true, for she that said so is a relation, and an intimate friend of Mamma's. She seems even to have taken a sudden liking to me. She was the only person who took a little notice of me the whole evening. I also heard a man after supper, who I am sure was speaking of me, say to another, "We must let it ripen, we shall see this winter." Perhaps he is to be my husband; but if so, I have still to wait four months! I wish I knew how it is to be.

Here's Josephine, and she says she is in haste. I must, however, tell you one of my awkward tricks--Oh, I believe that lady was right.

After supper, they all sat down to cards. I sat next Mamma. I don't know how it happened, but I fell asleep immediately. A loud laugh awoke me. I don't know whether I was the object of it; but I believe I was. Mamma gave me leave to retire, which pleas'd me much. Only think, it was then past eleven! Adieu, my dear Sophy! continue to love thy Cecilia, I assure you the world is not so pleasing as we used to think it.

Paris, Aug. 4, 17--.

LETTER IV.

The VISCOUNT DE VALMONT to the MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL.

Your orders are enchanting, and your manner of giving them still more delightful; you would even make one in love with despotism. It is not the first time, you know, that I regret I am no longer your slave; and yet, monster as you style me, I recall with rapture the time when you honoured me with softer names. I have often even wish'd again to deserve them, and to terminate, by giving along with you an example of constancy to the world. But matters of greater moment call us forth; conquest is our destiny, and we must follow it: we may, perhaps, meet again at the end of our career; for permit me to say, without putting you out of temper, my beautiful Marchioness! you follow me with a pretty equal pace; and since, for the happiness of the world, we have separated to preach the faith, I am inclined to think, that in this mission of love, you have made more proselytes than I. I am well convinced of your zeal and fervour; and if the God of Love judged us according to our works, you would be the patron saint of some great city, whilst your friend would be at most a common village saint. This language no doubt will surprise you; but you must know, that for these eight days I hear and speak no other; and to make myself perfect in it, I am obliged to disobey you.

Don't be angry, and hear me. As you are the depository of all the secrets of my heart, I will intrust you with the greatest project I ever formed. What do you propose to me? To seduce a young girl, who has seen nothing, knows nothing, and would in a manner give herself up without making the least defence, intoxicated with the first homage paid to her charms, and perhaps incited rather by curiosity than love; there twenty others may be as successful as I. Not so with the enterprise that engrosses my mind; its success insures me as much glory as pleasure; and even almighty Love, who prepares my crown, hesitates between the myrtle and laurel, or will rather unite them to honour my triumph. Even you yourself, my charming friend, will be struck with a holy respect, and in a fit of enthusiasm, will exclaim, This is the man after my own heart!

You know the Presidente Tourvel, her devout life, her conjugal love, and the austerity of her principles; that is the object I attack; that is the enemy worthy of me; that is the point I intend to carry. I must tell you, the President is in Burgundy, prosecuting a considerable suit, (I hope to make him lose one of greater importance,) his inconsolable partner is to remain here the whole time of this afflicting widowhood. A mass each day, a few visits to the neighbouring poor, prayers morning and evening, a few solitary walks, pious conferences with my old aunt, and sometimes a melancholy game at whist, are her only amusements: but I am preparing some of a more efficacious nature for her. My guardian angel led me here for our mutual happiness. Fool that I was! I used to regret the time that I sacrificed to the customary ceremonies. How should I now be punished, by being obliged to return to Paris! Fortunately there must be four to make a whist party; and as there is no one here but the curate of the place, my eternal aunt has pressed me much to sacrifice a few days to her; you may judge, I did not refuse her. You can't conceive how much she caresses me ever since; and above all, how much she is edified by seeing me so regular at mass and at prayers. But little does she imagine the divinity I adore there.

Thus, in the space of four days, have I given myself up to a violent passion. You are no stranger to the impetuosity of my desires, and how readily all obstacles fly before me: but I'll tell you what you don't know, that solitude adds immensely to the ardour of desire. I have but one idea; I cherish it by day, and dream on't by night. I must possess this woman, lest I should be so ridiculous as to be in love; for whither may we not be led by frustrated desire? Oh, delicious enjoyment! I implore thee for my happiness, and, above all, for my repose. How happy it is for us, that the women make so weak a defence! Were it otherwise, we should be but their cowardly slaves. I feel myself at this moment penetrated with gratitude towards complaisant ladies, which, naturally leads me to you, at whose feet I prostrate myself to obtain my pardon, and finish this already too long letter. Adieu, my charming friend!

Castle of ----, Aug. 3, 17--.

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