Letter 147

Madame de Volanges to Madame de Rosemonde

You will most assuredly be as much afflicted, my dear friend, as I am, when I acquaint you with Madame de Tourvel’s state; she has been indisposed since yesterday: she was taken so suddenly, and her disorder is of such an alarming nature, that I am really frightened about it.

A burning fever, an almost constant and violent delirium, a perpetual thirst, are the symptoms. The physicians say, they cannot as yet form their prognostics; and their endeavours are frustrated, as the patient obstinately refuses every kind of remedy: insomuch, that they were obliged to use force to bleed her; and were twice since forced to use the same method, to tie up the bandages, which she tore off in her fits.

You and I, who have seen her, so weak, so timid, so mild, could hardly conceive that four persons scarcely could hold her; and on the least remonstrance she flies out in the greatest rage imaginable: for my part, I fear it is something worse than a raving, and borders on downright madness.

And what happened the day before yesterday adds to my fears.

On that day she came about eleven in the morning to the convent of ⸻ with her waiting maid. As she was educated in that house, and occasionally came to visit there, she was received as usual, and appeared to everyone in good health and very quiet. In about two hours after she asked, whether the room she had, whilst she was a pensioner, was vacant? and being answered in the affirmative, she begged leave to see it; the prioress and some of the nuns accompanied her. She then declared she came back to settle in this room, which, said she, I ought never to have quitted; adding, she would not depart from it until death: that was her expression.

At first, they stared at each other: but the first surprise being over, they remonstrated, that, as a married woman, she could not be received without a special permission. That, and a thousand other arguments were unavailable; and from that moment she was obstinate, not only to remain in the convent, but even not to stir from the room. At length, being tired out, they consented, at seven in the evening, she should remain there that night. Her carriage and servants were sent home, and they adjourned until the next day.

I have been assured, during the whole night her appearance and deportment did not exhibit the least wandering symptom; on the contrary, she seemed composed and deliberate; only fell into a profound reverie four or five times, which conversation could not remove; and every time before she recovered from it, she seemed forcibly to squeeze her forehead with both hands: on which one of the nuns asked her if she had a pain in her head; she fixed her eyes on her sometime before she replied, and said, “My disorder is not there.” Immediately after she begged to be left alone, and also, that in future they should not put any questions to her.

Everyone retired except her waiting maid, who was fortunately obliged to sleep in the same chamber.

According to the girl’s account, her mistress was pretty quiet until about eleven at night; then she said she would go to bed: but before she was quite undressed, she walked to and fro in her room with much action and gesture. Julie, who was present at everything that passed during the day, did not dare say a word, and silently waited near an hour. At length, Madame de Tourvel called her twice on a sudden; she had scarce time to reach her, when her mistress dropped in her arms, saying, “I can hold out no longer.” She suffered her to lead her to her bed; but would not take anything, nor allow her to call for assistance. She ordered her only to leave her some water, and go to bed.

The girl avers, she did not go to sleep till two in the morning, and heard neither disturbance nor complaint. At five she was awoke by her mistress, who spoke in a strong loud tone. She asked, if she wanted anything; but receiving no answer, she went to Madame de Tourvel’s bedside with a light, who did not know her; but breaking off her incoherent discourse, exclaimed violently, “Leave me alone! Let me be left in darkness! It is darkness alone suits me!” I remarked yesterday, she often repeated those expressions.

At last, Julie took this opportunity to go out and call for assistance, which Madame de Tourvel refused with the greatest fury and madness. These fits have often returned since.

The distress the whole convent was thrown in, induced the Prioress to send for me yesterday morning at seven, when it was not yet day. I went immediately. When I was announced to Madame de Tourvel, she seemed to come to herself, and said, “Ah! yes, let her come in.” She fixed her eyes on me when I came near her bed, and seizing my hand suddenly, she squeezed it, saying, in a strong, melancholy tone, “I die for not having taken your advice”; and immediately covering her eyes, she resumed her delirium of “Leave me alone,” etc. and lost all reason.

Those discourses, and some others that fell from her in her delirium, make me apprehend this dreadful disorder has still a more cruel cause; but let us respect the secrets of our friend, and pity her misfortune.

All yesterday was equally stormy, either fits of frightful deliriousness, or lethargic faintness, the only time when she takes or gives any rest. I did not leave her bed’s head until nine at night, and am going again this morning for the day.

I will not certainly abandon our unhappy friend: but her obstinacy in refusing all help and assistance is very distressing.

I enclose you the journal of last night, which I have just received, and which, as you will see, brings but little consolation. I will take care to send them you regularly.

Adieu, my worthy friend! I am going to visit our poor friend. My daughter, who is perfectly recovered, presents her compliments to you.