Letter 131

The Marchioness de Merteuil to the Viscount de Valmont

Very well, Viscount; come, I am better pleased with you than I was before: now let us converse in a friendly manner, and I hope to convince you, the scheme you propose would be the highest act of folly in us both.

Have you never observed that pleasure, which is the primum mobile of the union of the sexes, is not sufficient to form a connection between them? and that if desire, which brings them together, precedes it, it is nevertheless followed by disgust, which repels it⁠—This is a law of nature, that love alone can alter; and pray, can we have this same love at will? It is then necessary it should be always ready, which would have been very troublesome had it not been discovered, it is sufficient if it exists on one side: by this means the difficulty is lessened by half, even without apparent prejudice; for the one enjoys the happiness of loving, the other of pleasing⁠—not perhaps in altogether so lively a manner, but that is compensated by deceit, which makes the balance, and then all is right.

But say, Viscount, which of us two will undertake to deceive the other? You know the story of the two sharpers who discovered each other at play⁠—“We must not prejudice ourselves,” said they; “let us club for the cards, and leave off.” Let us follow this prudent advice, nor lose time together, which we may so usefully employ elsewhere.

To convince you that I consult your interest as much as my own, and that I am not actuated either by ill humour or capriciousness, I will not refuse your reward⁠—I am very sensible one night will be sufficient; and do not in the least doubt, we shall know how to make it so pleasing, the morning will come with regret⁠—but let us not forget, this regret is necessary to happiness; although the illusion may be enchanting, nor flatter ourselves it can be durable.

You see I fulfil my promise in my turn, and even before you perform the conditions stipulated⁠—for I was to have had your celestial prude’s first letter. Whether you do not choose to part with it, or that you have forgot the conditions of a bargain that is not so interesting to you as you would have me think, I have not received anything; and I am much mistaken, or the tender devotee must have wrote a great deal; for how can she employ her time alone? she certainly has not sense enough for dissipation? If I was inclined, then, I have room to make you some little reproaches, which I shall pass over in silence, in consideration of the petulance I perhaps showed in my last letter.

Nothing more remains, now, Viscount, but to make you a request, and it is as much for you as myself; that is, to defer the time, which perhaps I wish for as much as you, but which I think may be put off until my return to town. On the one hand, it would be very inconvenient here; and on the other, it would be running too great a risk; for a little jealousy would fix me with the dismal Belleroche, who no longer holds but by a thread. He is already struggling to love me; we are at present so critically circumstanced, I blend as much malice as prudence in the caresses I lavish on him; at the same time you will observe, it would not be a sacrifice worthy of you⁠—A reciprocal infidelity will add power to the charm.

Do you know I regret sometimes we are reduced to those resources⁠—At the time we loved each other, for I believe it was love, I was happy⁠—and you, Viscount⁠—but why engage our thoughts on a happiness that can never return? No, say what you will, it is impossible⁠—First, I should require sacrifices that you could not or would not make; that probably I do not deserve. Again, how is it possible to fix you? Oh, no; I will not even think of it; and notwithstanding the pleasure I now have in writing to you, I prefer quitting you abruptly. Adieu, Viscount.