Letter 10

The Marchioness de Merteuil, to Viscount Valmont

Are you out of temper with me, Viscount, or are you dead, or, which is pretty much the same, do you live no longer but for your Presidente? This woman, who has restored you to the illusive charms of youth, will also soon restore you to its ridiculous follies. You are already a timid slave; you may as well be in love at once. You renounce your happy acts of temerity on many occasions; and thus, without any principle to direct you, give yourself up to caprice, or rather chance. Do you know, that love is like physic, only the art of assisting nature? You see I fight you on your own ground, but it shall not excite any vanity in me; for there is no great honour in engaging a vanquished enemy. She must give herself up, you tell me; without doubt she must, and will, as others, but with this difference, that she’ll do it awkwardly. But that it may terminate in her giving herself up, the true method is to begin by taking her. What a ridiculous distinction, what nonsense in a love matter; I say love; for you really are in love. To speak otherwise would be deceiving you, would be concealing your disorder from you. Tell me, then, my dear sighing swain, of the different women you have had, do you think you gained any of them by force? Whatever inclination we may have to yield, however we feel our compliance unavoidable, still must there be a pretence; and can there be a more commodious one for us, than that which gives us the appearance of being overcome by force? For my part, I own nothing charms me to much as a brisk lively attack, where everything is carried on with regularity, but with rapidity; which never puts us to the painful dilemma of being ourselves constrained to remedy an awkwardness which, on the contrary, we should convert to our advantage; and which keeps up the appearance of violence, even when we yield, and dexterously flatters our two favourite passions, the glory of a defence, and the pleasure of a defeat. I must own that this talent, which is more uncommon than one would imagine, always pleased me, even when it did not guide me, and that it has sometimes happened that I have only surrendered from gratitude: thus, in our tournaments of old, beauty gave the prize to valour and address.

But you, you who are no longer yourself, you proceed as if you dreaded success. And pray how long is it since you have fallen into the method of travelling so gently, and in such bye-roads? Believe me, when one has a mind to arrive, post-horses and the high road is the only method.

But let us drop this subject; it the more puts me out of temper, as it deprives me of the pleasure of seeing you. At least, write me oftener than you do, and acquaint me with your progress. You seem to forget that this ridiculous piece of business has already taken up a fortnight of your time, and that you neglect everybody.

Now I mention neglect, you resemble those who send regularly to inquire of the state of health of their sick friends, and who never concern themselves about the answer. You finish your last letter by asking whether the Chevalier is dead. I make no reply, and you are no farther concerned about the matter; have you forgot my lover is your sworn friend? But comfort yourself; he is not dead; or if he was, it would be from excess of pleasure. This poor Chevalier, how tender! How formed for love! How sensibly he affects one! He distracts me. Seriously, then, his happiness in being loved by me, inspires me with a true affection for him.

The very day I wrote you that I was taken up in contriving our rupture, how happy did I not make him! And yet I was in earnest engaged how I should make him desperate when he appeared. Whether whim or inclination, he never appeared to so much advantage. However, I received him coolly; he expected to spend a couple of hours with me before my time of seeing company. I told him I was going abroad, he begged to know where; I refused to tell him. He insisted to know; where you will not be, I replied with some tartness. Happily for him he was petrified at my answer; for had he pronounced a syllable, a scene would have ensued which would infallibly have brought on the intended rupture. Astonished at his silence, I cast a look at him, with no other design, I swear, but to observe his countenance; I was instantly struck with the deep and tender sadness that covered this charming figure, which you have owned it is so difficult to resist. The same cause produced the same effect; I was a second time overcome; from that instant I endeavoured to prevent his having any reason to complain. I am going out on business, said I, in a milder tone, and the business relates to you; ask no more questions. I shall sup at home; at your return you’ll know all: he then recovered his speech; but I would not suffer him to go on. I’m in great haste, continued I. Leave me until night. He kissed my hand and departed. In order to make him, or perhaps myself, amends, I immediately resolved to show him my villa, of which he had not the least suspicion; I called my faithful maid, Victoire. I am seized with my dizziness, said I; let all my servants know I am gone to bed; when alone, I desired her to put on a footman’s dress, and metamorphosed myself into a chambermaid.

She ordered a hackney-coach to my garden-door, and we instantly set out; Being arrived at this temple dedicated to love, I put on my genteelest deshabille; a most delicious one, and of my own invention: it leaves nothing exposed, but everything for fancy to imagine. I promise you the pattern for your Presidente, when you shall have rendered her worthy of wearing it.

After those preparations, whilst Victoire was taken up with other matters, I read a chapter of the Sopha, a letter of the New Eloisa, and two of La Fontaine’s Tales, to rehearse the different characters I intended to assume. In the meantime, my Chevalier came to my house, with his usual eagerness. My porter refused him admittance, and informing him I was indisposed, delivered him a note from me, but not of my writing; according to my usual discretion. He opens, and finds in Victoire’s writing;⁠—“At nine precisely, at the Boulevard, opposite the coffeehouses.”

Thither he proceeds, and a little footman whom he does not know, or at least thinks he does not know, for it was Victoire, tells him he must send back his carriage and follow him. All this romantic proceeding heated his imagination, and on such occasions a heated imagination is useful. At last he arrives, and love and astonishment produced in him the effect of a real enchantment. In order to give him time to recover from his surprise, we walked a while in the grove; I then brought him back to the house. The first thing which presented itself to his view, was a table with two covers, and a bed prepared. From thence we went into the cabinet, which was most elegantly decorated. There, in suspense, between reflection and sentiment, I flung my arms around him, and letting myself fall at his knees⁠—“Alas! my dear friend,” said I, “what reproaches do I not deserve, for having, for a moment, given you uneasiness by an affected ill-humour, in order to enhance the pleasure and surprise of this moment, for having concealed my heart from your tenderness! Forgive me; I will expiate my crime with the most ardent love.” You may guess what was the effect of this sentimental declaration. The happy Chevalier raised me, and my pardon was sealed on the same sofa where you and I, in a similar way, so cheerfully sealed our eternal rupture.

As we had six hours to pass together, and that I was determined the whole time should be devoted to delight him, I moderated his transports, and called lovely coquetry to the aid of tenderness. I don’t know I ever took so much pains to please, or ever, in my own opinion, succeeded so well. After supper, by turns, childish and rational, wanton and tender, sometimes even libertine. I took pleasure in considering him as a Sultan, in the midst of his Seraglio, to whom I alternately supplied the places of different favourites; and indeed, his reiterated offerings, though always received by the same woman, were received as by a new mistress.

At length, when day appeared, it was necessary to part; and notwithstanding all he said, and even what he did, to prove the contrary, there was, on his part, as much necessity for it, as want of inclination. At the instant of parting, for a last adieu, I delivered him the key of this happy mansion: I had it for you alone, said I, and it is fit you should be the master of it; it is but right the high priest should dispose of the temple. By this artifice, I anticipated any reflections which might arise in his mind relative to the propriety of a villa, which is ever matter of suspicion. I know him so well, that I’m certain he will never make use on’t but for me; and if I should have a fancy to go there without him, I have another key. He by all means would make an appointment for another day; but I as yet love him too much, to wear him out soon; the true maxim is, not give into excess, but with those one wishes to be rid of. This he is a stranger to; but, happily for him, I know it for us both.

I perceive it is now three in the morning, and that I have wrote a volume, though I intended but a short letter. Such are the charms of confidential friendship; it is that confidential friendship that renders you the object I love most; but indeed the Chevalier is the object that pleases me most.