Letter 149

Madame de Volanges to Madame de Rosemonde

I was in hopes almost all day yesterday, to have been able to give you, my worthy friend, this morning, a more favourable account of our dear patient; but since last night, that hope is utterly destroyed. A matter seemingly of very little importance, but which, in its consequences, proves to be a very unhappy one, has made the case at least as grievous as before, if not worse.

I should not have had any comprehension of this sudden change, if I had not received yesterday the entire confidence of our unhappy friend. As she did not conceal from me that you also are acquainted with all her misfortunes, I can inform you everything without reserve of her unhappy situation.

Yesterday morning, on my arrival at the convent, I was informed she had been asleep about three hours; and that sleep, so profound and so easy, I for some time was apprehensive was lethargic⁠—Some time after she awoke, and opened the curtains of the bed herself.

At first she looked at us all with great surprise, and as I rose to go to her, she knew me, called me by my name, and begged I would come near her. She did not give me time to ask her any questions, but desired to know where she was; what we were doing there; if she was sick; and why she was not in her own house? I imagined at first, it was another frenzy, only more gentle than the former: but I soon perceived she understood my replies perfectly; and she had recovered her reason, but not her memory.

She questioned me very minutely on everything that happened to her since she came to the convent, which she did not remember. I gave her a faithful account, only concealing what I thought might frighten her too much: and when I asked how she was, she replied she did not then feel any pain: but was much tormented during her sleep, and found herself fatigued. I advised her to keep quiet, and say little: then I partly closed the curtains, and sat down by the side of her bed: some broth was then proposed, which she agreed to take, and liked it very well.

She continued thus about half an hour, and only spoke to thank me for my care of her, which she did with that graceful ease you know is so natural to her; afterwards she was for some time quite silent, which she broke at length, saying, “O yes, I now remember my coming here;” and a minute after, exclaimed grievously, “My dear friend, have pity on me! My miseries are all returning on me.” I was then coming towards her, she grasped my hand, and leaning her head against it, “Great God!” said she, “cannot I then die!” Her expression more than her words melted me into tears; she perceived it by my voice, and said, “you pity me then; ah, if you but knew!”⁠—Then breaking off: “Let us be alone, and I will tell you all.”

I believe I already wrote to you I had some suspicions, which I was apprehensive would be the topic of this conversation that I foresaw would be tedious and melancholy, and might probably be very detrimental to the present state of our unhappy friend. I endeavoured to dissuade her from it, by urging the necessity of repose; she however, insisted, and I was obliged to acquiesce.

As soon as we were alone, she acquainted me with everything you already know, therefore unnecessary to be repeated.

At last, relating the cruel manner in which she was sacrificed, she added, “I was very certain it would be my death, and I was resolved⁠—but it is impossible to survive my shame and grief.” I attempted to contend against this depression, or rather despair, with motives of a religious nature, always hitherto so powerful in her mind; but I was soon convinced I was not equal to this solemn function, and I determined to propose calling in Father Anselmus, in whom I knew she reposes great confidence. She consented, and even appeared much to desire it⁠—He was sent for, and came immediately: he stayed a long time with her, and said, going away, if the physicians were of the same opinion he was, the ceremony of the sacraments he thought might be postponed until the day following.

This was about three in the afternoon, and our friend was pretty quiet until five, so that we all began to conceive some hope; but unfortunately a letter was then brought for her; when it was offered to her, she replied at first she would not receive any, and no one pressed it; but from that time she seemed more disturbed. Soon after she asked from whom the letter came?⁠—It had no postmark⁠—Who brought it?⁠—No one knew⁠—From what place did the messenger say it came?⁠—The portress was not informed. She remained silent some time after; then again began to speak; but her discourse was so incoherent, we were soon convinced the frenzy was returned.

However there was a quiet interval afterwards, until at last she desired the letter should be given to her. The moment she cast her eyes on it, she exclaimed, “Good God! from him!” and then in a strong and oppressed tone of voice, “Take it, take it.” She instantly ordered the curtains of her bed to be closed, and desired no one should come near her; but we were all soon obliged to come round her: the frenzy returned with more violence than ever, accompanied with most dreadful convulsions⁠—Those shocking incidents continued the whole evening; and the account I received this morning, informs me, the night has been no less turbulent. On the whole, I am astonished she has held out so long in the condition she is: and I will not conceal from you, that I have very little, if any, hope of her recovery.

I suppose this unfortunate letter is from M. de Valmont⁠—What! can he still dare to write to her! Forgive me, my dear friend; I must put a stop to my reflections⁠—It is, however, a most cruel case, to see a woman make so wretched an end, who has, until now, lived so happy, and was so worthy being so.