Letter 41

The Presidente de Tourvel to Viscount Valmont

Your behaviour towards me, Sir, has the appearance of your seeking opportunities to give me more reason to complain of your conduct than I hitherto have had. Your obstinacy in teasing me incessantly with a subject that I neither will or ought to attend to; the ill use you have made of my candour, or timidity, to convey your letters to me; but, above all, the indelicate manner you imagined to hand me the last, without having paid the least attention to the consequences of a surprise which might have exposed me, would authorise me to reproach you in terms as severe as merited. But I am inclined, instead of renewing my complaint, to bury all in oblivion, provided you agree to a request as simple as it is just.

You yourself have told me, Sir, I ought not to apprehend a denial; although, from an inconsistency which is peculiar to you, this phrase was even followed by the only refusal you had in your power to give,10 I am still disposed to think you will, on this occasion, keep a promise you so formally and so lately made.

I require, therefore, you would retire from hence, and leave me, as your residence here any longer will expose me to the censure of the public, which is ever ready to paint things in the worst colours, and a public whom you have long habituated to watching such women as have admitted you into their society.

Though my friends have for some time given me notice of this danger, I did not pay proper attention to it; I even combated their advice whilst your behaviour to me gave me reason to think you did not confound me with the crowd of women who have reason to lament their acquaintance with you. Now that you treat me in the same manner, and that I can no longer mistake, it is a duty I owe to the public, my friends, and myself, to take the necessary resolution. I might also add, that a denial would avail little, as I am determined, in case of a refusal, to leave this place immediately.

I do not seek to lessen the obligation your complaisance will lay me under; and will not conceal from you, that if you lay me under the necessity of leaving this, you will put me to inconvenience. Convince me then, Sir, as you have often told me, that a woman of virtue will never have reason to complain of you: show me, at least, that if you have ill treated such a woman, you are disposed to atone for the injury you have done her.

Did I think my request required any justification in your sight, it would be enough, I think, to tell you the whole conduct of your life makes it necessary; it is not my fault a reformation has not taken place. But I will not recall events that I wish to forget, and which would lead me to pass a severe sentence on you at the time I am offering you an opportunity of deserving my utmost gratitude. Farewell, Sir. Your determination will tell me in what light I am to behold you for life.