Letter 105

The Marchioness de Merteuil to Cecilia Volanges

Well, my dear little creature, you are very much vexed and ashamed; and this same Valmont is a wicked man, is he not? How is all this? He dared behave to you as he would to the woman he loved best! He has taught you what you was going mad to know! Upon my word, such proceedings are unpardonable. And you, like a good girl, would have kept your chastity for your lover, who would not attempt it; you cherish the torments of love only, but not its pleasures. Why this is charming; and you will make a conspicuous figure in a romance. Love, misfortunes, and virtue in abundance! Lord! what a deal of fine things! In the midst of this brilliant train, it is true, one may have nothing to do, but they may repay themselves.

How the poor little thing is to be pitied! her eyes were sunk the next morning! What will you say, then, when your lover’s will be so? My dear angel, you will not be always so; all men are not Valmonts: and again; not dare lift up your eyes! Oh, there you was very right; everyone would have read your adventure in them. Believe me, however, if it was so, our women and our young ladies even would assume more modest countenances.

Notwithstanding the praises you perceive I am obliged to give you, yet you must agree you failed in your master piece, which was to tell all to your mama. You had begun so well; you had flung yourself in her arms; you sobbed and cried. What a pathetic scene! What a pity you did not complete it! Your tender mama, overjoyed, and to assist your virtue, would have shut you up in a convent for life; and there you might have loved Danceny as much as you pleased, without a rival, and without any sin; you might be afflicted at your leisure; Valmont would not certainly have come to trouble your affliction with his naughty amusements.

But seriously, is it possible to be so childish, and turned of fifteen, as you are! You are much in the right to say, you are scarcely worthy my care; yet I wish to be your friend: you want one with the mother you have, and the husband she intends for you; but if you do not improve more, what can one make of you? What can be hoped, if what gives girls sense and understanding, deprives you of them.

If you could once bring yourself to reflect for a moment, you would soon discover, you would rather congratulate yourself than grieve: but you are ashamed; and that hurts you. Compose yourself; the shame that follows love is like the pain; you suffer it but once. It may be feigned afterwards, but is never felt: and yet the pleasure remains, and you will own that is of consequence. I think I can even pick out among your nonsense, you lay some stress on it. Come, be honest; that uneasiness that prevented you from doing as you said; that made you find it so difficult to struggle; that made you, as it were, vexed, when Valmont went away; was it shame or pleasure occasioned it? And his manner of speaking, to which one did not know how to answer, did it not proceed from his manner of doing? Ah, little girl! you tell a lie to your friend; that’s not right: but enough of that.

What above everything to anyone else is nothing more than pleasure, in your situation is real happiness. Being so circumstanced with a mother, whose affection is of so much importance, and a lover whom you wish ever to enjoy, can you not plainly see the only means to unite successfully those opposite interests is to bring in a third? Drawn off by this new adventure, whilst you will seem to your mama to sacrifice submissively to her will, a passion that was not agreeable to her, you will establish with your lover the honour of having made a fine resistance. Assuring him constantly of your affections, you must not grant him the convincing proofs. Those refusals, which are so trifling in your situation, he will not fail to attribute to virtue; he may, perhaps, repine, but his love will increase; and to enjoy the double merit of sacrificing to the one your affection, and to the other only to resist its force, it will cost nothing more than the enjoyment of its delights. How many women have lost their reputation, who would have anxiously preserved it, had they such a field.

Does not this scheme appear the most feasible as well as the most delightful to you? Do you know what you have got by the one you have taken? Your mama attributed your immoderate grief to your increase of love, and was so enraged, that she only waited to be convinced, in order to punish you. I have just received a letter from her. She will attempt every method to extract the avowal from yourself. She writes me, she may, perhaps, even go so far as to propose Danceny to you for a husband, and this only to make you speak out. If, seduced by this affectation of tenderness, you should open your heart, she would shut you up for a long time, perhaps, forever, to deplore at leisure your blind credulity.

This scheme she intends to execute against you must be counteracted by another. Begin, then, to be more cheerful, to make her believe you do not think so much of Danceny. She will be the more easily prevailed on to believe it, as it is the usual effect of absence; and she will be the more pleased with you, as she will applaud herself for her prudence which suggested the method. If she should still have her doubts, should persist in sounding you, and should come to mention matrimony, abide, like a prudent girl, in your absolute submission for you risk nothing; as to a husband, one is always as good as another; the most troublesome is not more so than a mother.

When your mama is once better pleased, she will have you married; then, being more free in your proceedings, you can, if you please, quit Valmont to have Danceny, or even keep both; for observe, Danceny is agreeable, it is true, but he is one of those men one can have when they please, and as often as they please; so you may be easy as to him.⁠—Not so with Valmont; it is dangerous to quit him, and difficult to keep him; one must be very skilful, or very tractable: if you could, however, attach him as a friend, you would be happy indeed. He would elevate you to the first rank among the modish women; that is the way to gain consistency in life, and not sit blushing and crying as if your nuns had made you eat your dinner on your knees.

If you are prudent, you will then endeavour to make it up with Valmont, who must be very angry with you: as you must learn to repair your folly, do not be afraid to make him some advances; you will soon learn, that although the men make the first to us, we are always obliged to make the second. You will have a pretence for it, for you must not keep this letter; and I require you will deliver it to Valmont as soon as you have read it. Do not forget to seal it again, however, before you give it: for, in the first place, I want to leave the whole merit of this proceeding to yourself, that it should not carry the appearance of an advice; moreover, I do not know anyone I have so much friendship for, as to write as I do to you.

Adieu! my charming angel! follow my advice, and let me know how it succeeds.