Letter 77

Viscount de Valmont to the Presidente de Tourvel

From whence proceeds, Madam, the cruel care you take to avoid me? How does it happen, that the most tender eagerness on my part, can only obtain from you an indifference, that one could scarcely justify to a man who had even done one an injury? When love recalls me to your feet, and a happy accident places me beside you, you would rather feign an indisposition, and alarm your friends, than consent to remain near me. How often yesterday did you turn away your eyes from me, to deprive me of the pleasure of a look; and if, for an instant, I could observe less severity in them, it seemed as if you intended not that I should enjoy it, but that I should feel my loss in being deprived of it.

This is, I dare say, a treatment not consistent with love, nor can it be permitted to friendship; and yet you know that one of those sentiments animates me, and I thought myself authorised to believe you would not refuse me the other. This precious friendship, which you undoubtedly thought me worthy of, as you condescended to offer it, what have I since done to forfeit? Have I prejudiced myself by my frankness; and will you punish me for my candour? Are you not, at least, afraid of offending the one or the other? For is it not in the bosom of my friend I deposit the secrets of my heart? Is it not to her alone I thought myself obliged to refuse conditions which, had I accepted, would give me an opportunity of breaking them, and, perhaps, of successfully abusing them? Or would you force me to believe, by so undeserved a rigour, if I had deceived you, I should have gained more indulgence?

I do not repent of a conduct I owe to you and myself: but by what fatality is it, that every laudable action of mine becomes the signal of a new misfortune to me?

And after having, by my obedience, merited the only praise you have vouchsafed to bestow on my conduct, I now, for the first time, lament the misfortune of displeasing you. After giving you proofs of my entire submission, by depriving myself of the happiness of seeing you, to please your delicacy, you want to break off your correspondence with me, and take away this feeble amends of a sacrifice you exacted, to deprive me of my love, which alone could have given you that right. In fine, it is after speaking to you with a sincerity which even my love could not weaken, you fly from me today as a dangerous seductor, whose perfidiousness was fully proved.

Will you then never cease being unjust? Inform me, at least, what new wrongs I have committed, that could cause so much severity; and do not refuse to prescribe the orders you would have me follow. Surely it is not too much to desire to know, when I engage to execute them.