Letter 122

Madame de Rosemonde to the Presidente de Tourvel

I flattered myself, my lovely daughter, to have been able to calm your uneasiness; with grief, however, I am forced still to increase it; yet be pacified, my nephew is not in any dangerous way. I cannot even say he is really sick. Still there is something very extraordinary in his disorder, which is incomprehensible. I left his chamber with sensations of grief, and even of terror, which I blame myself for imparting to you, and still cannot conceal. I will give you an account of the transaction. You may depend on its veracity; Were I to live eighty years more, I should never forget this melancholy scene.

I went this morning to see my nephew. He was writing, surrounded with a heap of papers, which appeared to be the object of his employment. He was so deeply engaged, I was in the middle of the room before he looked about to see who came in. As soon as he perceived me, I observed, as he rose, he endeavoured to compose his countenance, and perhaps it was that made me pay more attention to it. He was undressed, and without powder; but his countenance pale, wan, and very much altered; his look, which used to be so gay and lively, was melancholy and dejected: and, between ourselves, I would not for any consideration you had seen him thus, for his whole deportment was very affecting, and the most apt to inspire that tender compassion, which is one of the most dangerous snares of love.

Although struck with those remarks, yet I began a conversation as if I had not taken notice of anything. First, I enquired about his health; and without saying it was very good, he did not complain of its being bad. I then began to lament his recluseness, which had something the appearance of a disordered fancy, and endeavoured to mingle a little sprightliness with my reprimand: but he replied in an affecting tone; “I confess it is another error, which shall be repaired with the rest.” His looks more than his reply, disconcerted my cheerfulness; and I told him, he took up a little friendly reproach in too serious a manner.

We then began to chat on indifferent matters. A little while after he told me, an affair, the greatest affair of his whole life, would, perhaps, soon call him back to Paris. I was afraid to guess at it, my lovely dear; and lest this beginning should lead to a confidence I did not wish, asked him no questions, but only replied, a little dissipation might put him in better health; saying, at this time I would not press him, as loving my friends for their own sake. At this so simple a speech, he squeezed my hands, and with a vehemence I can’t express, “Yes, my dear aunt,” said he, “love a nephew who respects and cherishes you, and, as you say, love him for his own sake. Do not be afflicted at his happiness, and do not disturb with any sorrow, the eternal tranquillity he soon hopes to enjoy. Repeat once more, you love me, you forgive me; yes, you will forgive me; I know the goodness of your heart: but can I hope for the same indulgence from those I have so grievously offended?” Then leaned down towards me, as I believe to conceal some marks of grief, which, however, the tone of his voice betrayed.

Inexpressibly affected, I rose suddenly; and he, no doubt, observed my affright, for instantly composing himself, he replied, “Your pardon, Madam, I perceive I am wandering in spite of me. I beg you will remember my profound respect, and forget my expressions. I shall not omit waiting on you before my departure to renew them.” This last sentence seemed to imply a wish, I should terminate my visit; I accordingly retired.

I am lost in reflection, as to his meaning. What can this affair be, the greatest of his whole life? On what account should he ask my pardon? From whence could that involuntary melting proceed whilst he was speaking? I have since put myself those questions a thousand times, without being able to solve them. I can’t even discover anything relative to you; yet, as the eyes of love are more penetrating than those of friendship, I would not conceal anything from you that passed between my nephew and me.

This is the fourth time I have sat down to write this long letter, which I should yet have made longer, but for the fatigue I undergo. Adieu, my lovely dear!