Letter 44

Viscount de Valmont to the Marchioness de Merteuil

Share in my joy, my charming friend; I am loved; I have at length triumphed over that rebellious heart. In vain does she still dissemble; my happy address has discovered the secret. Thanks to my unremitting efforts, I know all that interests me: since last night, that propitious night, I am again myself; I have discovered a double mystery of love and iniquity; I shall enjoy the one, and be revenged of the other; I shall fly from pleasure to pleasure. The bare idea of it transports me almost beyond the bounds of prudence; and yet I shall have occasion for some of it, to enable me to put any proper order in my narrative; but let us try:

Yesterday, after I had wrote my letter, I received one from the celestial devotee; I send it enclosed; you will observe she with less awkwardness than might be expected, gives me leave to write to her; yet presses my departure, which I well knew I could not defer without prejudice to myself. However, tempted by a curiosity to know who had wrote against me, I was still undetermined how to act. I attempted to bribe her chambermaid, to induce her to give me her mistress’s pockets, which she could easily do at night, and replace them the next morning, without giving the least suspicion. I offered ten louis d’ors for this trifling service; but I found her a hesitating, scrupulous, or timid creature, whom neither my eloquence nor money could bring over. I was using farther solicitations, when the bell rung for supper. I was then obliged to break off; and thought myself very happy in obtaining from her a promise to keep my secret, on which, however, you may believe I placed little dependence.

I never was more out of humour. I found I had committed myself, and reproached myself much for the imprudent step I had taken.

After I retired in great anxiety, I spoke to my huntsman, who was entitled, as a successful lover, to some share of credit. I desired he would prevail on this girl to do what I required, or at least to insure secrecy: he, who in general makes no doubt of success in anything he undertakes, appeared dubious of this negotiation, and made a reflection, the depth of which astonished me: “You certainly know better than I can tell you, Sir,” said he, “that to kiss a girl is nothing more than to indulge her in a fancy of her own, and that, there is a wide difference often between that and making her act according to our wishes; and I have so much less dependence on her, as I have much reason to think she has another swain, and that I only owe my good fortune to her want of occupation in the country; and had it not been for my zeal for your service, Sir, I should not have sought it more than once (this lad is a treasure). As to the secret,” added he, “what purpose will it answer to make her promise, since she will risk nothing in deceiving us? To speak of it again, would only make her think it of greater importance, and make her more anxious to insinuate herself into her mistress’s favour, by divulging it.” The justness of these reflections added to my embarrassment. Fortunately the fellow was in a talking mood; and as I had occasion for him, I let him go on: while relating his adventures with this girl, he informed me the room she slept in was only separated from the apartment of her mistress by a single partition, and as the least noise would be heard, they met every night in his room. I instantly formed my plan, which I communicated to him, and we executed it successfully.

I awaited until the clock struck two, and then, as was agreed, went to the rendezvous, with a lighted candle in my hand, and under pretence of having several times in vain rung the bell. My confidant, who plays his part to admiration, performed a little scene of surprise, despair, and confusion, which I put a stop to, by sending him to warm me some water, which I pretended to have occasion for; the scrupulous waiting-maid was the more disconcerted, as the fellow, who had improved on my scheme, had made her make a toilet very suitable to the heat of the season, but which it by no means apologised for.

Being sensible the more this girl was humbled, the less trouble I should have to bring her to my designs, I did not suffer her to change either her situation or dress; and having ordered my servant to wait for me in my room, I sat by her bedside, which was in much disorder, and began a conversation. It was necessary to keep the ascendant I had obtained, and I therefore preserved a sangfroid that would have done honour to the continence of Scipio; and without taking the smallest liberty with her, which her ruddy countenance, and the opportunity, perhaps, gave her a right to hope; I talked to her of business with as much indifference, as I would have done with an attorney.

My conditions were, that I would observe the strictest secrecy, provided the day following, at the same hour, she put me in possession of her mistress’s pockets, and my offer of ten louis d’ors. I now confirm I will not take any advantage of your situation. Everything was granted, as you may believe; I then retired, and left the happy couple to repair their lost time.

I employed mine in sleep: and in the morning, wanting a pretence not to answer my fair one’s letter before I had examined her papers, which could not be till the night following, I resolved to go a-hunting, which took up the greatest part of the day.

At my return I was received very coolly. I have reason to believe she was a little piqued at my want of eagerness to make good use of the time that remained, especially after the softer letter which she wrote me. I formed this conjecture, because, on Madame de Rosemonde’s having reproached me on my long absence, the fair one replied with some acrimony, “Oh, let us not reproach Mr. de Valmont for his attachment to the only pleasure he can find here.” I complained that they did not do me justice, and took the opportunity to assure them I was so well pleased with their company, that I sacrificed to it a very interesting letter that I had to write; adding, that not having been able to sleep several nights, I endeavoured to try if fatigue would not bring me my usual rest; my looks sufficiently explained the subject of my letter, and the cause of my want of rest. I took care to affect, during the whole evening, a melancholy softness, which succeeded tolerably well, and under which I disguised my impatience for the hour which was to give me up the secret she so obstinately persisted in concealing. At length we retired; and soon after the faithful waiting-maid brought me the stipulated price of my discretion: when in possession of this treasure, I proceeded with my usual prudence to arranging them; for it was of the utmost importance to replace everything in order.

I first hit upon two letters from the husband, indigested stuff, a mixture of uninteresting details of lawsuits, and unmeaning protestations of conjugal love, which I had the patience to read through; but not a syllable in either concerning me. I put them in their place with some disgust; but that vanished on finding, in my handwriting, the scraps of my famous letter from Dijon, carefully collected. Fortunately it came into my head to run them over. You may guess the excess of my raptures, when I distinctly perceived the traces of my adorable devotee’s tears. I must own I gave way to a puerile emotion, and kissed this letter with a transport that I did not think myself susceptible of. I continued the happy search; I found all my letters in order according to their dates; and what still surprised me more agreeably was, to find the first of them, that which I thought had been returned to me by my ungrateful fair one, faithfully copied in her own handwriting, but in an altered and trembling manner, which sufficiently testified the soft agitation of her heart during the time she was employed at it.

So far I was entirely occupied with love; but soon gave way to the greatest rage. Who think you it is that wants to destroy me, with this woman I adore? What fury do you suppose wicked enough to form so diabolical a plan! You know her: it’s your friend, your relation; it is Madame de Volanges. You cannot conceive what a string of horrible stories the infernal Megera has wrote against me. It is she, and she alone, has disturbed the peace of this angelic woman; it is by her counsels, by her pernicious advice, that I find myself obliged to retire; I am sacrificed to her! Certainly her daughter shall be seduced; but that is not sufficient, she shall be ruined; and since the age of this accursed woman shelters her from my blows, I must strike at her in the object of her affections.

She will then force me to return to Paris; she obliges me to it! Be it so; I will return; but she shall have reason to lament my return. I am sorry Danceny is to be the hero of this adventure; he has a fund of honour that will be a restraint upon us; but he is in love, and we are often together: I may turn him to account. My anger overcomes me, and I forget that I am to give you the recital of what has passed today.

This morning I saw my lovely prude; she never appeared so charming; that was of course; it is the most powerful moment with a woman, that shall produce an intoxication of soul, which is so often spoke of, and so rarely felt, when, though certain of their affections, we have not yet possessed their favours; which is precisely my case. Perhaps the idea, also, of being deprived of the pleasure of seeing her, served to embellish her. At length the post arrived, and brought me your letter of the 27th; and whilst I was reading it, I hesitated whether I should keep my word or not; but I met my fair one’s eyes, and I found it impossible to refuse her anything.

I therefore announced my departure immediately after Madame de Rosemonde left us: I was four paces distant from the austere lovely one, when she started with a frightened air, “leave me, leave me, Sir,” said she; “for the love of God, leave me!” This fervent prayer, which discovered her emotion, animated me the more; I was now close to her, and took hold of her hands, which she had joined together with the most moving, affecting expressiveness. I then began my tender complaints, when some evil genius brought back Madame de Rosemonde. The timid devotee, who has in reality some reason to be apprehensive, seized the opportunity, and retired.

I notwithstanding offered her my hand, which she accepted; and judging favourably of this kindness, which she had not shown for so long a time, and again renewing my complaints, I endeavoured to squeeze hers. She at first endeavoured to draw it back; but upon a more pressing instance, she gave it up with a good grace, although without either answering this emotion or my discourse. Being come to the door of her apartment, I wanted to kiss that hand before I left her: she struggled, but an ah! think I am going to part, pronounced with great tenderness, made her awkward and defenceless; the kiss was scarcely given, when the hand recovered its strength to escape, and the fair one entered her apartment where the waiting-maid was: here ends my tale.

As I presume you will be tomorrow at the Lady Marechale’s de ⸻, where, certainly, I shall not go to look for you; and as at our first interview we shall have a great many things to talk over, especially that of the little Volanges, which I do not lose sight of; I have determined to send this letter before me; and although it is so long, I will not close it until the moment I am going to send it to the post; for I am so circumstanced, that a great deal may depend on an opportunity; and I leave you to watch for it.