Letter 20

The Marchioness de Merteuil to Viscount Valmont

So, knave, you begin to wheedle, lest I should laugh at you! Well, I forgive you. You say so many ridiculous things, that I must pardon you, the trammels you are kept in by your Presidente; however, my Chevalier would be apt not to be so indulgent, and not to approve the renewal of our contract; neither would he find anything very entertaining in your foolish whim. I laughed, however, exceedingly at it, and was truly sorry I was obliged to laugh alone. Had you been here, I don’t know how far my good humour might have led me; but reflection came to my aid, and I armed myself with severity. It is not that I have determined to break off forever; but I am resolved to delay for some time, and I have my reasons. Perhaps some vanity might arise in the case, and that once roused, one does not know whither it may lead. I should be inclined to enslave you again, and oblige you to give up your Presidente; but if a person of my unworthiness should give you a disgust for virtue itself, in a human shape, what a scandal! To avoid this danger, these are my stipulations.

As soon as you have obtained your lovely devotee, and that you can produce your proofs, come, I am yours. But I suppose it unnecessary to inform you that, in important matters, none but written proofs are admitted. By this arrangement I shall, on the one hand, become a reward instead of a consolation, and this idea pleases me most: on the other hand, your success will be more brilliant, by becoming in the same moment the cause of an infidelity. Come then, come speedily, and bring the pledge of your triumph; like our valiant knights of old, who deposited, at their ladies’ feet, the trophies of their victories. I am really curious to know what a prude can say after such an adventure; what covering she can give her words after having uncovered her person. You are to judge whether I rate myself too high; but I must assure you beforehand, I will abate nothing. Till then, my dear Viscount, you must not be angry that I should be constant to my Chevalier; and that I should amuse myself in making him happy, although it may give you a little uneasiness.

If I was not so strict a moralist, I believe at this instant he would have a most dangerous rival in the little Volanges. I am bewitched with this little girl: it is a real passion. I am much mistaken, or she will be one day or other one of our most fashionable women. I can see her little heart expanding; and it is a most ravishing sight!⁠—She already loves her Danceny to distraction, yet knows nothing of it; and he, though deeply smitten, has that youthful timidity, that frightens him from declaring his passion. They are both in a state of mutual adoration before me: the girl has a great mind to disburden her heart, especially for some days past; and I should have done her immense service in assisting her a little; but she is yet a child, and I must not commit myself. Danceny has spoke plainer; but I will have nothing to do with him. As to the girl, I am often tempted to make her my pupil; it is a piece of service I’m inclined to do Gercourt. He gives me time enough, as he must remain in Corsica until October. I have in contemplation to employ that time effectually, and to give him a well trained wife, instead of an innocent convent pensioner. The insolent security of this man is surprising, who dares sleep quietly whilst a woman he has used ill is unrevenged! If the little thing was now here, I do not know what I might say to her.

Adieu, Viscount⁠—good night, and good success; but, for God’s sake, dispatch. Remember, if you let this woman slip, the others will blush at having been unconnected with you.