Letter 100

The Viscount de Valmont to the Marchioness de Merteuil

My dear friend! I am betrayed, bubbled, ruined; I am enraged beyond expression: Madame de Tourvel is gone off. She is gone, and I knew nothing of it! I was not in the way to oppose her, to reproach her with her base treachery! Do not imagine I should have let her go quietly; she should have stayed, had I been even obliged to have used force. Fool as I was! I slept peaceably, wrapped in a credulous security! I slept whilst the thunder struck me! I cannot conceive the meaning of this abrupt departure; I will forever renounce the knowledge of women.

When I recall the transactions of yesterday!⁠—or rather the evening⁠—the melting look, the tender voice, the squeezing the hand⁠—all the while planning her flight.⁠—Oh! woman, woman! complain, then, if you are deceived! Yes, every kind of treachery that is employed against you is a robbery committed on you.

With what rapture shall I be revenged! I shall again meet this perfidious woman; I will resume my power over her. If love has been sufficient to furnish the means, what is it not capable of when assisted with revenge? I shall again see her at my knees, trembling, and bathed in tears! calling on me for pity with her deceitful voice; and I will have none for her.

What is she now doing? What can she think of? Perhaps applauding herself for having deceived me; and, true to the genius of her sex, enjoys that pleasure in the highest degree. What her boasted virtue could not effect, deceit has accomplished without a struggle; it was her disingenuity I should have dreaded.⁠—Then, to be obliged to stifle my resentment; to be obliged to affect a tender sorrow, when my heart is possessed with rage. Reduced to supplicate a rebellious woman, who has withdrawn herself from my obedience! Ought I then be so much humbled? And by whom? By a weak woman, who was never accustomed to resist! What avails my having possession of her heart, having inflamed it with the whole fire of love, having raised her feelings even to intoxication; if, calm in her retreat, she can now be prouder of her flight than I of my victories? And must I bear this? My dear friend, you will not believe it; you will not, surely, have such a humiliating opinion of me!

What fatality attaches me to this woman? Are there not a hundred others who wish I would pay attention to them, and eagerly accept it? If even none were so enchanting, the charms of variety, the allurements of new conquests, the splendour of the number; do not they afford a plentiful harvest of soft pleasures? Why, then, do I run madding after this one that flies me, and neglect those that offer? I am at a loss to account for it, but so it is.⁠—There is no happiness, no repose for me, until I possess this woman, whom I love and hate with equal rage. I shall not be able to support my fate until I have disposed of hers: then, tranquil and satiated, I shall behold her a prey to the ravages I now experience, and will raise a thousand others; hope and fear, diffidence and security, all evils the offspring of hatred, all the gifts that love can bestow, shall alternately engross her heart at my will. The time will come⁠—But what labours have I not yet to encounter?⁠—How near was I yesterday, and how distant today! How am I to regain the ground I have lost? I dare not undertake any one step: to come to some resolution I should be calm, and my blood boils in my veins.

The calm serenity with which everyone replies to my demands on this extraordinary, on this uncommon event, and its cause, adds to my torments.⁠—No one knows the reason: none seem to give themselves the least uneasiness about it; it scarcely would have been mentioned, could I have started any other subject. I flew to Madame de Rosemonde the moment I heard the news, who replied, with the natural indifference of old age, it was the consequence of the indisposition Madame de Tourvel had suffered yesterday: she dreaded a fit of illness, and wished to be at home; a resolution she did not think proper to oppose, as she would have done on a similar occasion; as if the contrast was applicable⁠—between her who should think of nothing but futurity, and the other, who is the delight and torment of my life.

Madame de Volanges, who I had suspected at first of being an accomplice, seems dissatisfied for not having been consulted on this occasion. I must own I am very well pleased she has been disappointed of the pleasure of prejudicing me; which is still a stronger proof she has not the confidence of this woman so much as I dreaded: that is an enemy the less. How would she have exulted, did she know she fled from me! How intolerable her pride, had it been the consequence of her advice! To what an immensity would her importance have been raised! Good God! how I detest her!⁠—Yes, I will renew my connection with the daughter, and initiate her in her business: I believe I shall stay here some time; I am at present inclined to this measure, in the tumult of reflections that crowd on me.

Don’t you, really now, think, after so extraordinary a proceeding, my ungrateful fair one should dread me? If she imagines I shall pursue her, she will not fail to prevent my admission; and, I can assure you, I am as little inclined to permit her such a custom, as to bear such an insult. I had much rather she should be told I remain here; I will even strenuously press her to return again: then, when she is fully convinced I am far from her, I will suddenly come to her house, and abide the effect of my scheme.⁠—That it may have its full force, it must not be hurried; still I will not answer for my impatience; twenty times this day was I tempted to call for my horses. I will contain myself, however, and wait your answer here; I only request, my lovely friend, you will not let me wait long for it.

What hurts me most is to be ignorant of what happens: my fellow, who is at Paris, has a claim on her waiting maid; he may be serviceable; I send him money, and his instructions. Permit me to include both in this letter, and request to have them delivered into his hand by some of your servants: this precaution is the more necessary, as the scoundrel has a trick of never receiving any letters I write him on business he finds troublesome; and, at this period, he does not seem to be quite so enraptured with his girl as I could wish him.

Adieu, my lovely friend! If a happy thought should strike you, or any means of bringing me speedily to action, lose not a moment. I have often experienced your friendship; I forcibly experience it now, for I am more serene since I sat down to write. I speak, at least, to one who comprehends me, not to the inanimate beings with whom I vegetate since this morning. On my word, the more I proceed, the more I am inclined to think we are the only couple worth anything in this life.