Letter 78

The Presidente de Tourvel to the Viscount de Valmont

You seem surprised, Sir, at my behaviour; and, indeed, your style falls little short of calling me to account, as if you were authorised to blame it. I really think I have much more reason for astonishment and complaint; but since the refusal contained in your last answer, I have taken my resolution to behave with an indifference that may not give any occasion for remarks or reproaches; yet as you ask some eclaircissements which, I thank heaven, I find no difficulty in giving, I will once more explain myself.

Any person who should read your letters would think me either unjust or fantastical. I don’t think I deserve that character; but I am of opinion, you above all the rest of mankind would be the readiest to catch at it. You must be sensible, that in putting me under the necessity of a justification, you oblige me to recall everything that has passed between us. You imagined you would gain by the scrutiny: I am inclined to think, I may even stand the test in your opinion; and perhaps it is the only way to discover which of us has a right to complain.

To begin, Sir, from the day of your arrival at this castle. You will acknowledge, I hope, your character authorised me at least to be upon the reserve, and I might, without apprehending the imputation of an excess of prudery, have restricted myself to exact politeness. You yourself would have behaved to me with deference, and only thought it strange, that a plain woman, so unacquainted with the ways of the world, had not sufficient penetration to appreciate your merit; that would have been certainly the most prudent method, and which I was so much inclined to follow, that I will freely own, when Madame de Rosemonde came to inform me of your arrival, I had occasion to recollect my friendship for her, and hers for you, to conceal my uneasiness at the unwelcome news.

I will freely own, at first you exhibited a behaviour much more favourable to you than what I had conceived: but you must also allow, it lasted but a very short time; and that you soon grew tired of a constraint, for which you did not think yourself sufficiently indemnified by the advantageous idea I had of you.

Then taking advantage of my candour and tranquillity, you did not scruple cherishing sentiments which you could not have the least doubt but would offend me; and whilst you was every day multiplying and aggravating the wrongs you did me, I endeavoured to forget them, and even offered you an opportunity, in some measure, of redressing them. My requisition was so fair, that you even thought you could not refuse it, but asserting a right from my indulgence, you made use of it to demand a permission, which doubtless I ought not to have granted, and which yet you obtained. The conditions annexed to it you did not observe; your correspondence was such, that each letter made it a duty to answer you no more. Even at the very time when your obstinacy obliged me to insist on your going away, that by a blameable condescension I sought the only means which, consistent with duty, was allowed me not to break entirely with you. But an humble sentiment has no value in your eyes. You despise friendship; and in your mad intoxication, ridiculing misery and shame, you seek nothing but victims and pleasure.

As fickle in your proceedings, as contrary to your own principles in your charges, you forget your promises, or you make a jest of violating them; and after consenting to depart from me, you come back without being recalled, without paying the least regard to my solicitations or my reasons, without even the decency of a notice. You ventured to expose me to a surprise, which, although very simple in itself, might have been interpreted very unfavourably for me by the persons who were present, and, far from endeavouring to dissipate this moment of embarrassment you gave birth to, you carefully sought to augment it. At table you chose precisely to place yourself beside me. A slight indisposition obliged me to go out before any of the company; and instead of paying any respect to my solitude, you bring them all to disturb me. Being returned again into the saloon, if I move, you follow me; if I speak, you always reply to me. The most indifferent word is a pretence for you to bring on a conversation, which I do not wish to hear, and which often may bring my name in question; for notwithstanding all your address, Sir, I believe others can see as well as me.

Thus, then, reduced to a state of inaction and silence, you nevertheless continue to pursue me. I cannot lift my eyes without meeting yours. I am incessantly obliged to turn my looks from you; and by an inconsequence, you fix the eyes of the whole company on me, at a time when I could even wish to hide myself from my own.

Yet you complain of my behaviour, and are astonished at my anxiety to fly from you. Blame rather my indulgence, and be astonished I did not set out the moment you arrived. I ought to have done it; perhaps you will yet oblige me to this violent, though necessary measure, if you do not cease your offensive pursuits. No; I never will forget what I owe to myself, what I owe to the obligations I have taken, which I respect and cherish. Be assured, if I should ever be reduced to the unhappy choice of sacrificing myself or them, I would not hesitate a moment.