Letter 155

The Viscount de Valmont to the Chevalier Danceny

I called on you twice, my dear Chevalier; but since you have thrown off the character of a lover for the man of intrigue, you are very properly invisible: however, your valet assured me you would be at home tonight; that you had ordered him to expect you. I, who am well acquainted with your designs, immediately conjectured it would be but for a short time for fashion’s sake, and that you would immediately pursue your victorious career. Go on; I must applaud you: but, perhaps, you will be tempted to alter your course for this night. You are yet acquainted with only half your business; I must let you into the other half, and then you will resolve. Take time, then, to read my letter. It will not dissipate you from your enjoyments; on the contrary, its object is to give you your choice.

If you had opened your mind confidentially to me; if you had told me the part of your secrets you left me to guess at, I should with my zeal, and less awkwardness, have smoothed the path of your progression. But let us set out from this point. Whatever resolution you take would, at worst, be the summit of good fortune to anyone else.

You have a rendezvous for tonight: have you not? With a charming woman, whom you adore? For at your age, where is the woman one does not adore for, at least, the first eight days? The field of action should also add greatly to your enjoyment⁠—A delicious little villa, which was taken for you only, must embellish voluptuousness with the charms of mysteriousness and liberty. All is agreed on: you are expected; and you are inflamed with desire to be there! All this we both know, though you told me nothing of it. Now I will tell you what you do not know; but you must be told.

Since my return to Paris, I have been taken up with contriving the means of an interview between you and Mademoiselle de Volanges: I promised it; and when I last mentioned it to you, I had reason to expect from your answer, I may say, from your transports, I was exerting myself in your happiness. I could not succeed alone in this difficult undertaking: but after having settled everything, I left the rest with your young mistress. She found resources in her affection, resources which escaped my experience; after all, to your great misfortune she has succeeded. She told me this evening, for these two days past all obstacles are removed, and your happiness depends on yourself alone.

She flattered herself, also, for those two days, to have been able to send you this news herself, and notwithstanding her mama’s absence you would have been admitted: but you never once showed yourself! and I must farther tell you, whether from reason or capriciousness, the little thing did not seem pleased at your want of assiduity. At last she found means to see me, and made me promise to deliver you the enclosed letter as soon as possible. From the eagerness she expressed, I would venture to lay a wager she gives you an assignation this night; however, I promised her, upon honour and friendship, you should have the tender summons in the course of the day, and neither can or will break my word.

Now, young gentleman, how will you behave in this business? Placed between coquetry and love, pleasure and happiness, which will you choose? If I was writing to the Danceny of three months ago, or even the Danceny of a week past, certain of the emotions of his heart, I should be certain of his proceedings: but the Danceny of the day, carried away by women, hunting after intrigue, and, according to custom, a little profligate, will he prefer a timorous young girl, who has nothing but beauty, innocence, and love, to the allurements of a common intriguer?

For my part, my dear friend, I think, even in your new system, which, I confess, I am not much averse to, circumstances would decide the preference to the lover. First, it is an additional conquest, then the novelty is attracting, and the fear of losing the fruits of your addresses, by neglecting to gather them; for to take it in this point of view, it would really be an opportunity missed, which is not always to be regained, especially in a first weakness: often in this case, a moment of ill humour, a jealous suspicion, even less, may prevent the finest conquest. Sinking virtue will sometimes grasp at a twig; and once escaped, will be on its guard, and not easily surprised.

On the other hand, you hazard nothing; not even a rupture; at most, a little quarrel: then your purchase with a little trouble the pleasure of a reconciliation; for what other resource has a woman you have already enjoyed but compliance? What would she get by severity? The privation of pleasure, without profit, for her glory.

If, as I suppose, you make love your choice, which appears to me, also, that of reason, I think it would be more prudent not to send any apology for the disappointment of the rendezvous; leave her in expectancy; for if you venture to give a reason, she will, perhaps, be tempted to dive into the truth. Women are curious and obstinate. All may be discovered: I myself, you see, am now an example of this truth. But if you let her remain in hope, which will be supported by vanity, it will not be lost until a long time after the proper hour for information is over; then tomorrow you will have time to choose the insurmountable obstacle that detained you: you may have been sick, dead if necessary, or anything else that has almost made you frantic, and all will be made up.

But which ever side you incline to, I only beg you will inform me; and as I am totally unconcerned, I will always think you have done right. Adieu, my dear friend!

All I have to add is, I regret M. de Tourvel. I am in a state of desperation at being separated from her; and I would lay down one half my life, to devote the other to her. Ah! believe me, there is no felicity but in love.