Letter 124

The Presidente de Tourvel to Madame de Rosemonde

The astonishment in which I am thrown, Madam, at the news I received yesterday, will not, however, make me forget the satisfaction it ought to give you, therefore I am in haste to impart it. M. de Valmont’s thoughts are no longer taken up with me or his love; he wishes nothing more ardently, than to repair, by a more edifying life, the faults, or rather the errors of his youth. This great event was announced to me by Father Anselmus, whom he addressed to be his director in future, and to treat with me of an interview, the principal design of which is, I imagine, to return my letters, which he has kept hitherto, notwithstanding my requisitions.

I cannot undoubtedly but applaud this happy change, and congratulate myself, if, as he says, I have any way contributed to it. But why should I have been the instrument, and that at the expense of my repose for life? Could not M. de Valmont’s happiness be completed but by my misfortune? Oh! forgive me this complaint, my most indulgent friend! I know it does not belong to mortals to fathom the decrees of heaven. Whilst I am incessantly and vainly imploring strength to overcome my unfortunate passion, it is prodigal of its favour to him who does not sue for it, and leaves me helpless a prey to my weakness.

Let me stifle those guilty murmurs. Did not the prodigal son at his return, find more grace with his father, than the one who never had been absent? What account can we demand of him who owes us nothing? And were it possible we could have any pretensions in the sight of God, what could mine be? Should I boast of a modesty, for which I am only indebted to Valmont? It was he saved me; and shall I dare complain of suffering for him? No, my sufferings shall be dear to me, if his happiness is purchased at their expense. Doubtless, in his turn he should come back to our common father. The almighty hand that formed him should cherish its own work. He did not create that charming being to be reprobated. It is me should bear the pain of my daring imprudence. Should I not have reflected, since I was forbid loving him, I should not indulge myself in gazing on him.

My fault or misfortune is to have rejected this truth too long. You, my dear and worthy friend, will be my witness, I submitted to this sacrifice as soon as I discovered the necessity of it: but to render it complete, there wanted the circumstance of M. de Valmont not taking any share in it. Shall I confess to you, this is the idea that at present torments me most? Intolerable pride! which alleviates the evils we endure, by a consciousness of those woes we cause to others! But I will conquer this rebellious heart. I will accustom it to humiliation.

This, motive exclusive of all other considerations, made me at last consent to receive next Thursday, M. de Valmont’s painful visit;⁠—he will then tell me he no longer knows me; that the feeble, transitory impression I had made on him exists, no longer! He will look upon me without any emotion, whilst the dread of revealing mine will cast my eyes down. Even those very letters which he so long refused to my repeated solicitations, I shall receive from his indifference; he will return them as useless trifles he no longer cares for; and my trembling hand will receive this shameful trust from a tranquil steady one; last he will depart!⁠—Depart forever!⁠—My eyes which will follow him, will not see his return to me.

Am I then reserved for all this humiliation? Let me at least make it useful by being penetrated with a sense of my weakness.⁠—Those letters he will no longer keep, I will lay up with care:⁠—I will impose on myself the shame of daily reading them until my tears have defaced the last letter⁠—and his, I will destroy, as infected with the dangerous poison which has tainted my soul.⁠—What then is love, which makes us regret even the danger it exposes us to, and dread feeling it, even when we can no longer inspire it? Let me fly this destructive passion, which leaves no choice between shame and misery, and often reunites them:⁠—let prudence then replace virtue.

How distant is this Thursday still! Why can’t I instantly consummate this sorrowful sacrifice, and forget at once the cause and the object? This visit importunes me; I repent having promised it⁠—what occasion to see me again⁠—what are we now to each other? If he has offended me, I forgive him⁠—I even congratulate him on his reformation; I praise him for it; I do more, I will follow his example; and, seduced by the same errors, his example shall reform me. But why, when his resolution is to fly me, why begin by seeking me? The one that is in most danger, ought they not to forget the other? Doubtless they ought; and that shall hereafter be my sole care.

With your permission, my amiable friend, it shall be with you I will undertake this difficult task; if I should want assistance, or perhaps consolation, I will not receive it from any other⁠—you alone understand and can speak to my heart:⁠—Your endearing friendship will fill up my existence;⁠—nothing will be difficult to second your cares:⁠—I shall be indebted to you for my tranquillity, my happiness, my virtue; and the fruits of your goodness will be to have at length made me deserving of it.

I believe I have gone very much astray in this letter, at least I think so, from the perturbed state I have been in during the whole time:⁠—If there is a sentiment which ought to make me blush, cover it with your indulgent friendship; I submit entirely to it; I have not a wish to hide from you any emotion of my heart.

Adieu, my most respectable friend! I hope to be able in a few days to announce that of my arrival.