Letter 84

Viscount de Valmont to Cecilia Volanges

You saw how we were disappointed yesterday. I could not find an opportunity to deliver you the letter I had the whole day; and I don’t know whether I shall be more successful this day. I am afraid of hurting you by my over zeal; and should never forgive myself, if by my imprudence you should suffer; that would make my friend distracted, and you miserable. Yet I am not insensible to a lover’s impatience. I feel how painful it is in your situation to experience delay in the only consolation you are capable of receiving at this time. By dint of thinking on means to remove obstacles, I have found one that will be pretty easy if you will but give your assistance.

I think I remarked, the key of your chamber door, that opens into the gallery, hangs always upon your mamma’s chimneypiece. Everything would become easy, if we were once in possession of that key; but if it is not practicable, I can procure another exactly similar, which will answer the purpose: it will be sufficient I should have the key for an hour or two. You can easily find an opportunity of taking it; and that it may not be missed, you have one belonging to me, which resembles it pretty much, and the difference won’t be perceived unless it is tried, which I don’t think will be attempted. You must only take care to tie a blue ribbon to it, like the one that is to your own.

You must endeavour to get this key tomorrow or the next day at breakfast, because it will be then easier to give it me, and it may be put in its place again in the evening, which would be the time your mamma might take notice of it. I can return it to you at dinner, if we act properly.

You know, when we go from the saloon to the dining room, Madame de Rosemonde always comes last; I will give her my hand; and all you have to do will be to quit your tapestry frame slowly, or let something fall, so that you make stay a little behind; then you will be able to take the key, which I will hold behind me: but you must not neglect, as soon as you have taken it, to join my old aunt; and make her some compliments. If you should accidentally let the key fall, don’t be disconcerted; I will pretend it is myself, and I’ll answer for all.

The small confidence your mamma shows you, and the moroseness of her behaviour, authorises this little deceit: but it is, moreover, the only means to continue to receive Danceny’s letters, and to send him yours. Every other is too dangerous, and might irretrievably ruin you both; and my prudent friendship would reproach me forever, if I was to attempt any other.

When I am once master of the key, there will be still some other precautions to be taken against the noise the door and lock may make, but them are easily removed. You will find, under the same clothespress where I left your paper some oil and a feather. You sometimes go into your room alone, and you must take that opportunity to oil the lock and the hinges; the only thing you have to take care of is, that no drops may fall on the floor, which might discover you. You must also take care to wait till night comes, because if you manage this business dexterously, as I know you are capable of, nothing will appear in the morning.

If, however, anything should be perceived, don’t hesitate to say it was the servant that rubs the furniture; in that case, perhaps, it would be necessary to tell the time and the conversation that passed: as, that he takes this precaution against rust for all the locks that are not constantly used; for you must be sensible it would not be very probable that you should be a witness of it without asking the reason. Those are little details that aid probability, and probability makes lies of no consequence; as it takes away all curiosity to verify them.

After you have read this letter once, I beg you to read it again, and imprint it well in your memory; for first one must understand well what one has to do, and then, again, that you should be certain I have omitted nothing. As I am little used to employ artifice or cunning for my own occasion, nothing but the strong friendship that I have for Danceny, and my compassion for you, could determine me to make use of those innocent methods. I hate everything that has the appearance of deceit; that is my character: but your misfortunes so sensibly affect me, I would attempt everything to soften them.

You may believe, when once this communication is established between us, it will be much easier for me to procure you a meeting with Danceny, which he has so much at heart; but yet don’t mention all this to him, as it would only increase his impatience, and the time is not entirely come to satisfy it. You ought rather, I think, to calm than to irritate it; but that I leave to your own delicacy. Adieu, my pretty pupil; for now you are my pupil. Love your tutor a little: but, above all, be very tractable, and you will find the benefit of it. I am employed in endeavouring to make you happy; which, I promise you, will add much to my own.