Sequel to the Fortieth Letter

From the Viscount de Valmont to the Marchioness de Merteuil

Now, my lovely friend, let us discuss this affair a little. You readily conceive, that the virtuous, the scrupulous Madame de Tourvel, cannot grant the first of my requests⁠—that of informing me who my accusers are, without a breach of friendship: thus, by promising everything on that condition, I am not at all committed; and you must be very sensible, that the negative she must give me, will give me a title to all my other objects; so that, by leaving this place, I shall obtain the advantage of a regular correspondence, with her own consent; for I don’t set great value upon the interview that I ask, by which I mean no more than to accustom her beforehand not to refuse other personal applications to her, when I shall have real occasion for them.

The only thing that remains to be done before my departure is, to know who are those that take the trouble to prejudice me in her opinion.

I presume it is that pedantic scoundrel her husband; I wish it may; for, as a conjugal prohibition is a spur to desire, I should be certain that from the moment of gaining her consent to write to me, I should have nothing more to fear from the husband, because she would then find herself under the necessity of deceiving him.

And if she has a confidential friend, and that friend should be against me, I think it will be necessary to raise a cause of misunderstanding between them, in which I hope to succeed: but, in the first place, I must see my way clear.

I imagined yesterday I had attained that necessary preliminary; but this woman does not act like any other. We were in her apartment when dinner was announced. She had just time to finish her toilet; and from her hurry, and making apologies, I observed her leave the key in her bureau; and she always leaves the key in her chamber door. My mind was full of this during dinner. When I heard her waiting-maid coming downstairs, I instantly feigned a bleeding at the nose, and went out. I flew to the bureau, found all the drawers open, but not a single paper; yet there is no occasion to burn them, situated as she is. What can she do with the letters she receives? and she receives a great many. I left nothing unexamined; all was open, and I searched everywhere; so that I am convinced this precious deposit is confided only to her pocket.

How they are to be got at, my mind has been fruitlessly employed ever since yesterday in contriving means: I cannot conquer my inclination to gain possession of them. I often regret that I have not the talent of a pickpocket. Don’t you think it ought to be made a part of the education of a man of intrigue? Would it not be humorous enough to steal a letter or a portrait of a rival, or to extract from the pocket of a prude, materials to unmask her? But our forefathers had no ideas: it is in vain for me to rack my brains; for it only convinces me of my own inability, without furnishing me any remedy.

I returned to dinner very dissatisfied: my fair one however brought me into good humour, by her anxious enquiries on my feigned indisposition: I did not fail to assure her that I had for some short time, violent agitations, which impaired my health. As she is persuaded the cause proceeded from her, ought she not in conscience endeavour to calm them? Although a devotee, she has very little charity; she refuses any compliance to supplications of love; and this refusal appears to me sufficient to authorise any theft to obtain the object. But adieu; for although I am writing to you, my mind is taken up with those cursed letters.