Letter 40

The Viscount de Valmont to the Marchioness de Merteuil

My inhuman mistress not content with declining an answer to my letters, and even refusing to receive them, she endeavours to deprive me of the pleasure of seeing her, and insists I should quit this place. What will surprise you more is, that I have acquiesced in everything. You will, no doubt, blame me. Yet I thought I should not let slip the opportunity of receiving her commands; being, on the one hand, convinced, that whosoever commands is responsible, and on the other, that the imaginary air of authority we give the women, is the most difficult snare for them to escape: besides, the precautions she has taken not to be with me alone, put me in a very dangerous situation, which I thought it prudent to be extricated from at all events: for being incessantly with her, without being able to direct her attention to the subject of love, it was the more to be dreaded she would become accustomed to see me with indifference⁠—a disposition of mind which you very well know is seldom overcome.

You may judge I did not acquiesce without making conditions. I even took care to stipulate for one impossible to be performed; not only that I may be at liberty to keep or break my word, but engage in a discussion, either verbally or in writing, whenever my fair one might be more satisfied with me, or feel the necessity of relaxing. I should have ill managed indeed, if I did not obtain an equivalent for giving up my pretensions, though they are not of a justifiable nature.

Having laid before you my reasons in this long exordium, I begin the history of the two last days. I shall annex, as proofs, my fair one’s letter with my answer. You will agree with me few historians are more exact than I am.

You may recollect the effect my letter from Dijon had the day before yesterday. The remainder of that day was rather tempestuous. The pretty prude did not make her appearance until dinner was on the table, and informed us she had got a bad headache; a pretence for concealing the most violent ill humour that ever possessed woman. Her countenance was totally altered; the enchanting softness of her tone was changed to a moroseness that added new beauty to her. I shall make a good use of this discovery in future; and convert the tender mistress into the passionate one.

I foresaw the evening would be dull; to avoid which, I pretended to have letters to write, and retired to my apartment. I returned about six to the Saloon; Madame de Rosemonde proposed an airing, which was agreed to. But the instant the carriage was ready, the pretended sick lady, by an act of infernal malice, pretended, in her turn, or, perhaps to be revenged of me for my absence, feigned her headache much worse, and forced me to undergo a tête-à-tête with my old aunt. I don’t know whether my imprecations against this female demon had their effect; but she was in bed at our return.

Next morning, at breakfast, she was no more the same woman: her natural sweetness had returned, and I had reason to think my pardon sealed. Breakfast being over, the lovely woman arose with an easy air, and walked towards the park; I soon followed her, as you may imagine. “Whence arises this inclination for a walk?” said I, accosting her. “I have wrote a great deal this morning,” she replied, “and my head is a little fatigued.”⁠—“I am not so happy,” replied I, “as to have to reproach myself with being the cause of that fatigue.”⁠—“I have wrote you,” said she, “but I hesitate to deliver my letter:⁠—it contains a request, and I fear I must not flatter myself with success.”⁠—“I swear if it be possible.”⁠—“Nothing more easy,” replied she; “and though perhaps you ought to grant it from a motive of justice, I will consent even to obtaining it as a favour.” She then delivered me her letter, which I took, as also her hand, which she drew back, without anger, and more confusion than vivacity. “The heat is more intense than I imagined,” said she; “I must return.” In vain did I strive to persuade her to continue our walk;⁠—she returned to the Castle;⁠—and were it not for the dread of being seen, I would have used other means as well as my eloquence. She returned without uttering a syllable; and I plainly saw this pretended walk had no other object than to deliver me her letter. She retired to her apartment, and I to mine, to read her epistle. I beg you will read that, and my answer, before you go farther.