Letter 71

Viscount de Valmont to the Marchioness de Merteuil

My blundering huntsman has left my letter-case at Paris. My fair one’s letters, Danceny’s for the little Volanges, all is left behind; and I want them all. He is just going to set off to repair his folly; and while he saddles his horse, I take the opportunity to give you a detail of my night’s adventure; for I hope you will believe I don’t lose time.

It is in itself but trifling; being nothing more than another heat with the Viscountess de M⁠⸺. The detail however is interesting. I am moreover pleased to let you know, that if I have the talent of ruining the women, I am no less clever in saving them when I am inclined. The most lively, or most difficult side, is what I always choose; and I never reproach myself with doing a good act, provided it entertains and amuses me.

I found the Viscountess here; and as she was very pressing with the other solicitations, that I should sleep here, “Well, I agree,” said I, “on condition I sleep with you.”⁠—“That is impossible,” said she; “Vressac is here.” Until then I only meant to pass a joke; but the word impossible roused me as usual. I was humbled to be sacrificed to Vressac; I determined not to bear it, and insisted on it.

The circumstances were not favourable for me. Vressac has been foolish enough to give umbrage to the Viscount; so that she cannot see him any longer at home: and this journey to the good Countess was concerted between them, to endeavour to steal a few nights. The Viscount seemed to be out of temper at meeting Vressac here; but as his passion for hunting is stronger than his jealousy, he has remained, notwithstanding the Countess, whom you well know, having fixed the wife in an apartment in the great gallery; placed the husband on one side, and the lover on the other, and left them to settle the matter between themselves. Their evil genius would have it that I should be lodged opposite to them.

Yesterday Vressac, who, as you may believe, humours the Viscount, hunted with him, notwithstanding it is a diversion he is not fond of, and reckoned he would be consoled at night in the embraces of the wife, for the chagrin the husband gave him that day: but as I imagined he would have occasion for repose, I resolved to prevail on his mistress to give him time to take it.

I succeeded, and induced her to pick a quarrel with him about this hunting match, which he evidently agreed to only for her sake. A worse pretence never could have been hit on: but no woman knows better than the Viscountess how to employ that usual talent of all, to affect ill temper instead of reason, and to be never so difficult to be appeased as when they are in the wrong. Besides, it was not a convenient time for explanations; and as I only wished for one night with her, I consented they should make it up the next day.

Vressac was then huffed at his return. He wanted to know the reason she quarrelled with him; he endeavoured to justify himself; the husband, who was present, was the apology for breaking off the conversation; he however attempted to seize the opportunity, when the husband was absent, to beg he might be heard at night. Then the Viscountess was sublime: she was exasperated at the audacity of men, who, because they have experienced a woman’s affection, think themselves entitled to abuse it; when, at the same time, the woman has every cause to be offended; and having changed her argument, she spoke so well, on delicacy and sentiment, that Vressac was mute and confounded; and I even thought she was right: for you must know, as a friend to both, I made up the trio.

She at length declared positively she would not increase the fatigues of the chase by the additional ones of love, and that she could not think of disturbing such pleasing amusements. The husband returned. The unhappy Vressac, who could no longer reply, addressing himself to me; after relating, with much circumlocution, his reasons, which I was as well satisfied with as he could be, requested I would speak to the Viscountess, which I promised him: and I did; but it was to thank her, and settle the hour and method of meeting.

She informed me, that, being situated between her husband and lover, she thought it more prudent to go to Vressac, than to receive him in her apartment; and that as I was fixed opposite to her, she thought it would be better to come to my room; that she would come the moment her maid left her; only to leave my door open, and wait for her.

Everything was done as agreed on; and she came to me about one.

Not being much inclined to vanity, I shall not enter into particulars: however, you know me well; I was well pleased with myself.

At dawn of day we were forced to part. Here the tale begins. The giddy creature thought she had left her door half open; we found it shut, and the key withinside. You can’t conceive the distraction of the Viscountess. “Ah! I am undone,” she exclaimed. I must own it would have been whimsical to have left her so; but was it possible to think a woman should be ruined for me, that was not ruined by me? And should I, as the generality of men do, be overcome by an accident? A lucky thought occurred, and thus I settled the business.

I soon perceived the door might be broke upon, but not without some noise. With some difficulty I prevailed on the Viscountess to cry out, Robbers, murder, thieves, etc. etc. We had so settled it, that, at the first alarm, I should burst open the door, and she should fly to her bed. Yon can’t imagine how difficult it was to make her resolve, even after she had consented. She was, however, obliged to comply; and at the first burst the door flew open.

The Viscountess was right not to lose a moment; for instantly the Viscount and Vressac were in the gallery, and the waiting maid in her mistress’s chamber.

I alone was cool, and overturned a watch light that was burning; for it would have been ridiculous to have feigned such a panic, having a light in the room. I scolded the husband and lover for their drowsiness, confidently insisting that her cries, and my efforts to burst open the door, had lasted at least five minutes.

The Viscountess, who recovered her courage in bed, seconded me tolerably well, and strenuously insisted there was a robber in her room; but with something more sincerity she declared she never had been more frightened in her life. We searched everywhere, but found nothing; at last I made them observe the watch light overturned: we concluded a rat had given us this fright and disturbance. My opinion was unanimously adopted. After some stale jests on rats, the Viscount returned to bed, begging she would in future choose more peaceable rats.

Vressac drew near the Viscountess, and passionately told her, Love revenged him; to which she replied, fixing her eyes on me, “He must then have been very angry indeed: for he has had ample satisfaction; but I am much fatigued, and want rest.”

I was very well pleased. Before we parted, I pleaded so powerfully for Vressac, that I brought about a reconciliation. The lovers embraced, and I also received theirs. I was indifferent to the Viscountess’s kisses; but I own I was pleased with Vressac’s. We left her; after having received his thanks, we returned to our beds.

If the tale diverts you, I don’t mean to bind you to secrecy. Now I have had my amusement, it is right the public should also have their share. For this time you have only the history; hereafter we shall talk of the heroine.

Adieu. My huntsman has been in waiting an hour. I particularly recommend it to you to be on your guard against Prevan.