Letter 63

Marchioness de Merteuil to Viscount de Valmont

Yes, certainly, I can explain Danceny’s letter to you. The incident that gave birth to it is my work, and I think it a masterpiece. I lost no time since I received your last letter; and, in the words of the Athenian architect, “What he has said, I will perform.”

There must be obstacles then for our hero of romance; and his happiness lulls him. Oh! leave that to me, I will cut out work for him; and I am much mistaken if he sleeps so quietly hereafter. It was necessary to make him sensible of his folly; and I flatter myself that he now regrets the opportunity he has let slip. You say also, that is necessary there should be a little mystery in the business: well, take my word for it, that shall not be wanting. I have this good quality, that if I am but told my faults, I am not at rest till I amend them. Now to inform you what I have done⁠—at my return the day before yesterday, in the morning I received your letter, which is truly admirable. Being fully satisfied that you had very well pointed out the cause of the disorder, I set about finding the method of cure. But first I lay down; for the indefatigable Chevalier did not suffer me to take the least repose; and I thought I should sleep: but no; totally taken up with the thoughts of rousing Danceny from his lethargy, or punishing him for it, I could not close my eyes; and it was not until after I had well digested my plan, I got two hours repose.

I went that same evening to see Madame de Volanges; and told her, in pursuance of my scheme, in a very confidential manner, I was very certain there subsisted between her daughter and Danceny a dangerous connection. This woman, so penetrating in your business, was blinded to such a degree, that at first she replied, I certainly was mistaken; her daughter was but a child, etc. etc. I could not venture to tell her all I knew: but quoted looks, words, which much alarmed my friendship and virtue. I spoke almost as well as a devotee: to give the finishing blow to my intelligence, I told her I thought I saw a letter given and received. That I also recollected she one day opened a drawer in her bureau, in which I observed several papers, which she doubtless carefully preserves. “Do you know anyone she corresponds with frequently?” At that question Madame de Volanges’ countenance changed, and I observed some tears drop from her. “I thank you, my worthy friend,” said she, squeezing my hand; “I shall inquire into it.”

After this conversation, which was too short to cause any suspicion, I joined company with the little thing. I left her soon after, to beg of the mother not to discover to her daughter what I had told; which she promised me the more readily, as I observed what a happy thing it was that this child had placed such a confidence in me as to open her heart, which gave me an opportunity of assisting her with my good advice. I am the more satisfied that she will keep her promise, as no doubt she will plume herself on her penetration with her daughter. Thus I am authorised to keep up the ton of friendship with the little one, without giving umbrage to Madame de Volanges, which must be avoided. I shall moreover by this means have opportunities of conversing as long and as secretly as I please with the daughter, without alarming the mother.

This I put in practice that same evening; for after my party at cards was ended, I took the young one into a corner, and began upon the subject of Danceny, which never fatigues her; and diverted myself in heating her imagination with the pleasure she would have in seeing him the next day: there is no sort of extravagance but what she came into; it was necessary to pay her in hope, what I took from her in reality; moreover, this will make the blow the more sensible; and am confident that the more she suffers, the more ready she will be to make herself amends at the first opportunity. We ought to accustom those we intend for great adventures, to great events.

After all, she may afford a few tears, for the pleasure of having her Danceny. She is distracted about him! Well, she shall have him; and perhaps the sooner for this little storm. It is a troublesome dream which will be most delicious at waking; and, take everything together, I think she ought to be grateful. But to the point: I retired very well satisfied with myself. Either Danceny, said I, animated by obstacles, will redouble his affection, and then I will serve him to the utmost; or, if he is the booby I am sometimes inclined to think him, he will be desperate, and think himself undone: even then, I shall be revenged of him as much as in my power; I shall have increased the mother’s esteem for me, the daughter’s friendship, and the confidence of both. As to Gercourt, who is the first object of my care, I shall be very unfortunate, or very awkward indeed, if, having such an ascendant over his wife’s mind as I already have, and shall still have more, I did not find means of making him what I wish. I laid down with those pleasing ideas, slept very well, and did not awake till it was late.

In the morning I found two letters, one from the mother, and the other from the daughter; and could not help laughing to find in both literally this phrase⁠—“It is from you alone I expect any consolation.” And indeed it is pleasant enough to console for and against, and to be the sole agent of two interests so directly opposite. Thus I am like the Divinity, receiving the opposite vows of blind mortals, without altering my immutable decrees. However, I have quitted this grand roll, to take on me that of the consoling angel; and I went, according to the precept, to visit my two friends in their affliction.

I began with the mother, who I found in a very melancholy situation, which partly revenges you, for the obstacles you have experienced from your charming prude. Everything succeeded wonderfully; my only uneasiness was, lest Madame de Volanges should seize this opportunity of gaining her daughter’s confidence, which would have been a very easy matter, if she had used mild and friendly admonitions; and giving to the advice of reason the tone and air of indulgent tenderness. Fortunately she armed herself with severity; and behaved so badly, that nothing was left for me but to applaud. It is true she had like to have overthrown my plan entirely, by the resolution she had taken to shut up her daughter in the convent; but I warded the blow, and prevailed on her only to threaten it, in case Danceny should continue his pursuit, in order to oblige them both to a circumspection which I think so necessary for my success.

From thence I went to the daughter: you cannot conceive how much grief embellished her: if I can only infuse a little coquetry into her, I will engage she will cry often: but now she wept sincerely.⁠—Struck with this new charm, which I knew not before, and which I was very glad to observe, at first I gave her a few awkward consolations, which rather augment than relieve distress; and by this means led her to almost a state of suffocation. She cried no longer, and I really began to fear she would fall into convulsions. I advised her to go to bed, which she agreed to, and was her waiting maid: she had not dressed her head, her hair all loose upon her shoulders; her neck quite bare; I embraced her, she fell back in my arms, and her tears flowed again. Ye gods, how lovely she was! If the Magdalen was thus, she was much more dangerous as a penitent, than as a sinner.

When the lovely girl was in bed, I began really to comfort her in good earnest. I dispelled her fears of the convent, and raised her hopes of seeing Danceny privately; and sitting by the bedside, “If he was here now!” said I.⁠—Enlarging on the subject, I led her from thought to fancy, so that she soon forgot her affliction. We should have parted perfectly satisfied with each other, had she not wanted to prevail on me to deliver a letter to Danceny, which I absolutely refused. I dare say my reasons will meet your approbation.

First, it would be running a risk with Danceny; but had that been the only reason I could have alleged with the girl, there are a great many others I must impart to you. Would it not be risking the fruits of all my labours, to give our young people so easy a method, and so speedily of putting a period to their distress? Moreover, I should not be sorry to oblige them employ a domestic in this adventure; for if it has a happy issue, as I hope it will, she must feel her consequence immediately after marriage; and I know no means so certain of spreading her fame; or if they did not speak, which would be miraculous indeed, we could speak for them, and it would be more convenient the indiscretion should lay with them.

You must then infuse this idea into Danceny today; as I cannot depend on the little Volanges’ waiting maid, whom she seems diffident of, you may point out my faithful Victoire. I shall take care to ensure success: this idea pleases me much, as the secret will be useful to us, and not to them; for I am not yet at the end of my story.

Whilst I excused myself from taking her letter, I every moment dreaded she would have mentioned the penny-post, which I scarcely could have refused. Fortunately, through ignorance or distress, or that she was more anxious for the answer than the letter, which she could not have had by the same means, she never mentioned it; but to be guarded against this idea, if it should happen, or at least she should not have an idea of making use of it, I returned to her mother, and induced her to take her daughter to the country for a short time;⁠—and where do you think? Does not your heart leap for joy? Why, to your old aunt’s, Madame de Rosemonde. She is to acquaint her of it this day: thus you are authorised to go to your beloved devotee, who can no longer object to the scandal of a tête-à-tête; and thanks to my industry, Madame de Volanges shall herself repair all the mischief she has done you.

But hark ye, I must insist you are not to be so taken up with your own affairs as to neglect this; remember how much I am interested in it. I wish you to be not only the correspondent, but the confidant, of the two young ones; acquaint Danceny, then, of this journey, and make him a tender of your services. Remove every difficulty, but that of delivering your credentials to his fair one; and remove that obstacle, instantly, in pointing out the medium of my chambermaid. Doubtless he will embrace it, and for your reward you will be the confidant of a young heart, which is ever of consequence. The poor little thing, how she will blush when she gives you her first letter! I cannot help thinking the character of a confidant, against which so many prejudices are formed, appears to be a tolerable relaxation, when one has other employment upon their hands, which is your case.

The denouement of this intrigue depends entirely upon you. You must watch the moment when you are to reunite your actors. The country offers a thousand opportunities, and Danceny will be ready to fly at your first signal; a night, a disguise, a window;⁠—but if the little thing comes back as she goes, it is your fault; if you think she should want any assistance from me, let me know. I think I have given her a tolerable lesson on the danger of keeping letters, so I may now venture to write to her; and I am still determined to make her my pupil.

I believe I forgot to tell you her suspicions, in regard to her correspondent, at first fell upon the waiting maid; but I turned them off to the confessor; that is killing two birds with one stone.

Adieu, Viscount! This letter has taken me a long time, and my dinner has been put back; but friendship and self-love dictated it.

You will receive it at three, that will be time enough.

Complain of me now if you dare; and go, if you are inclined, to the Comte de B⁠⸺’s wood: you say he keeps it for the amusement of his friends; that man is the friend of the world; but adieu! I am hungry.