Letter 99

Viscount de Valmont to the Marchioness de Merteuil

Trifling events still, my dear friend; nothing of consequence; no action; scenes only; therefore arm yourself with patience: you must take a large dose; for whilst my Presidente goes such a slow pace, your pupil slides back, which is much worse: but I am of that happy temper, I can divert myself with all this nonsense. I really begin to be very comfortable here; and can assure you, I have not experienced a tedious moment in my old aunt’s melancholy castle. What could I wish for more than what I have, enjoyments, privations, hope, and incertitude? What more is to be had on a grand theatre? Why spectators. Ah! a little patience, they will not be wanting. If they do not see me at work, they shall at least see my work completed; they will then have nothing to do but to admire and applaud: for they shall applaud. I can this instant with certainty foretell the moment of my austere devotee’s fall. I this night assisted at the last agonies of her virtue; soft weakness has replaced it. I have fixed its epocha, at farthest, to our next interview: you will call this pride. He announces his victory before he has gained it! Softly; be calm! To give you a proof of my modesty, I will give you the history of my defeat.

Upon my word, your little pupil is a most ridiculous being. She is really a child, and should be treated as one; it would be of service to enjoin her a little penance. Would you believe it? after what passed between us the day before yesterday, after the amicable manner in which we parted yesterday morning, I found her door locked on the inside when I came at night, as was agreed. What do you think of that? Those childish tricks are passable on the eve; but on the morrow is it not ridiculous? I did not, however, laugh at first; for never did I feel the ascendancy of my character more hurt. I went to this rendezvous without any incitement for pleasure, and merely through decency; my own bed, which I much wanted at that time, was preferable to any other, and I parted from it with some reluctance; yet when I met this obstacle I was all on fire to surmount it: I was humbled, to be sported with by a child. I was obliged to retire in very bad humour, fully resolved to have nothing more to do with this silly girl, or her matters. I immediately wrote her a note, which I intended giving her this day, wherein I appreciated her as she deserved: but night bringing good counsel, as is said, I reflected this morning, that not having here a choice of dissipations, it was better to keep this, and suppressed my note. Since I have reflected on it, I can’t reconcile it to myself to have had the idea of putting an end to an adventure before I had it in my power to ruin the heroine. What lengths will not a first emotion carry us to! Happy are those, my dear friend, who, like you, never accustom themselves to give way to it. I have deferred my revenge; and this sacrifice I make to your designs on Gercourt.

Now my wrath is subsided, I only see the ridiculousness of your pupil’s behaviour. I should be fond to know what she expects to gain by it; for my part, I am at a loss: if it should be to make a defence, she is rather late. She must explain this enigma to me one day or other, for I must be satisfied. It is only, perhaps, that she was fatigued; and really that may be the case, for certainly she does not yet know that the shafts of love, like the lance of Achilles, carry with them the remedy for the wounds they give. But no: I will engage by her little mien all day, that there is something like repentance; a something like virtue⁠—virtue, indeed!⁠—she is a pretty creature to pretend to virtue! Ah! she must leave that to the only woman who was truly born for it, knows how to embellish it, and make it revered. Your pardon, my dear friend: but this very evening it was that the scene between Madame de Tourvel and me happened, of which I am about giving you an account, and which has still left me in great emotion. It is not without some violence I endeavour to dissipate the impression it has left on me; it is even to assist it, I sit down to write to you: you must make some allowance for this first impulse.

For some days past Madame de Tourvel and I have been agreed about our sentiments, and we no longer dispute on anything but words. It was always, her friendship that answered my love: but this conventional language made no alteration in the meaning of things. Had we even still remained so, I should not have gone on, perhaps, with so much dispatch, but with no less certainty. There was no longer any thought of putting me from hence, as was at first mentioned; and as to our daily conversations, if I am solicitous to offer opportunities, she takes care not to let them slip.

It is usually in our walks our rendezvous occur; the bad weather we had all day left no room for hope; I was much disappointed at it, and did not foresee how much it was in my favour. Not being able to walk, after dinner they sat down to cards; as I seldom play, and was not wanted, I retired to my room, with no other design than to wait till the party was over. I was returning to join the company, when the charming woman, who was going into her apartment, whether through weakness or imprudence, said in a soft manner, “Where are you going? There is no one in the saloon.” That was sufficient, you may believe, for me to endeavour to go in with her. I found less reluctance than expected: it’s true, I had the precaution to begin the conversation at the door on indifferent matters; but we were scarcely settled when I began the true one, and I spoke of my love to my friend. “Oh,” says she, “let us not speak of that here;” and trembled. Poor woman! she sees herself going.

Yet she was in the wrong to have had any terrors. For some time past being certain of success one day or other, and seeing her employ so much exertion in useless struggles, I resolved to reserve mine, and wait without effort her surrender from lassitude. You already know I must have a complete triumph, and that I will not be indebted to opportunity. It was even after the formation of this plan, and in order to be pressing without engaging too far, I reverted to the word love, so obstinately resisted. Being assured my ardour was not questioned, I assumed a milder strain. This refusal no longer vexed me, it only afflicted me; my tender friend should give me some consolations. As she consoled me, one hand remained in mine, the lovely body rested on my arm, and we were exceeding close together. You must have certainly remarked, how much in such a situation, as the defence abates, the demands and refusals draw nearer; how the head turns aside, the looks cast down, whilst the conversation, always pronounced in a weak tone, becomes scarce and interrupted. Those precious symptoms announce, in an unequivocal manner, the consent of the mind, but rarely has it reached the senses. I even think it always dangerous to attempt any enterprise of consequence; because this state of abandonment being always accompanied with the softest pleasure, cannot be disturbed without ruffling the temper, which infallibly decides in favour of the defence.

But in the present case, prudence was so much more necessary, as I had everything to dread from the forgetfulness of the danger this abandonment would occasion to my tender pensive devotee; and the avowal I solicited I did not even require to be pronounced; a look would suffice; a single glance would crown my happiness.

My charming friend, those lovely eyes then were raised on me, that celestial mouth even pronounced⁠—“Well; yes, I⁠—” in an instant the look was extinct, the voice failed, and this adorable woman dropped in my arms. I had scarcely time to receive her, when disengaging herself with a convulsive force and wild look, her hands raised to heaven, she exclaimed, “God⁠—Oh, my God, save me!” and instantly, as quick as lightning, was on her knees ten paces from me. I could hear her almost suffocating. I came forward to assist her: but seizing my hands, which she bathed with her tears, sometimes embracing my knees, “Yes it is you,” said she, “it is you will save me; you do not wish my death; leave me; save me; leave me; for God’s sake! leave me:” and those incoherent expressions were brought out with most affecting sobs; yet still she held me so strong I could not get from her; however, making an effort, I raised her in my arms: instantly her tears ceased; she could not speak, her joints stiffened, and violent convulsions succeeded this storm.

I must own, I was exceedingly moved, and believe I should have complied with her request, if the circumstances had not even obliged me to it. But this much is certain; after having given her some assistance, I left her, as she desired; and I am well pleased with myself for it. I have already received almost my reward.

I expected, as on the first day of my declaration, I should not see her any more for the evening; but she came down to the saloon about eight, and only told the company she had been much indisposed: her countenance was dejected, her voice weak, her deportment composed, but her look mild, and often fixed on me.⁠—As she declined playing, I was obliged to take her seat, and she placed herself beside me. During supper she remained alone in the saloon. At our return, I thought I perceived she had been crying: to be satisfied, I told her I was afraid she still felt some uneasiness from her disorder, to which she obligingly answered, “Her disorder would not go so quickly as it came.” At last, when we retired, I gave her my hand, and at the door of her apartment, she very forcibly squeezed mine: it is true, this motion seemed to me to be involuntary; so much the better; it is a stronger proof of my power.

I am confident she is now happy to have gone such a length; all expenses are paid; nothing now remains but enjoyment. Perhaps now, whilst I am writing to you, she is possessed with the soft idea; but, if she should even be engaged in a new scheme of defence, you and I know how such projects end. Now let me ask you, can things be put off longer than our next interview? I expect there will be some forms to be settled; but, the first difficulties surmounted, do those austere prudes know where to stop? Their affections are real explosions; resistance gives them strength; my untractable devotee would run after me, if I ceased running after her.

At length, my lovely friend, I shall soon call on you for the performance of your promise; you undoubtedly remember our agreement after my success; this trifling infidelity to your Chevalier.⁠—Are you ready? I wish for it as passionately as if I had never known you. However, knowing you is, perhaps, a stronger motive for wishing for it.

I am just, and no galant.23

It shall be the first infidelity I shall commit against my solemn conquest; and, I promise you, I will embrace the first pretence to be absent from her four and twenty hours: that shall be her punishment for having kept me so long distant from her: It is now more than two months I have been taken up with this adventure: ay, two months and three days, including tomorrow, as it will not be really consummated until then. This brings to my memory, that Mademoiselle B⁠⸺ held out three complete months. I am pleased to find sheer coquetry can make a longer defence than austere virtue.

Adieu, charmer! I must leave off, for it is very late. This letter has led me farther than I intended; but, as I send to Paris tomorrow, I would not miss the opportunity of letting you partake a day sooner of your friend’s good success.