Letter 165

Madame de Volanges to Madame de Rosemonde

I know you are already informed, my dear and worthy friend, of the loss you have sustained. I know the tender affection you had for M. de Valmont, and I most sincerely partake of the affliction you must endure. I am truly grieved to add new griefs to those you have already experienced: but, alas! nothing now can be done for our unhappy friend but to deplore her fate. We lost her at eleven o’clock last night. By a fatality linked to her fate, and which seemed to baffle all human prudence, this short interval that she survived M. de Valmont was sufficient to inform her of his death, and, as she said herself, not be able to sink under the weight of her miseries until their measure was filled.

You already know, that for these two days she was insensible;⁠—yesterday morning, when her physician came, and we drew near her bed, she did not know either of us, and we could not obtain a word or a sign. We were scarcely returned to the fire, while the physician was relating to me the melancholy event of M. de Valmont’s death, but this unhappy woman recovered her reason: whether nature alone produced this revolution, or whether it was occasioned by the frequent repetition of the words, M. de Valmont and death, which may have recalled the only ideas with which her mind had been so long engaged.

Be it what it may, she suddenly drew back the curtain of the bed, exclaiming, “What! What do you say? M. de Valmont dead!” I hoped to make her believe she was mistaken. At first I endeavoured to persuade her she did not hear well: but all in vain; for she insisted the physician should begin the cruel tale again;⁠—on my endeavouring to dissuade her from it, she called me to her, saying, in a low voice, “Why will you deceive me? Was he not already dead to me?” I then was forced to acquiesce.

Our unhappy friend appeared at first to listen to the story with great tranquillity: but she soon interrupted him, saying, “Enough; I know enough:” and immediately ordered her curtains to be closed⁠—When the physician went to perform the duties of his office, she never would suffer him to come near her.

As soon as he was gone, she also sent away her nurse and her waiting maid. When we were alone, she requested I would assist her to kneel on her bed, and support her. Then she remained some time silent;⁠—and without any other expression than her tears, which flowed most abundantly, joining her hands, and raising them towards heaven; “Almighty God!” said she in a weak but fervent tone, “I submit to thy just judgment: but in thy mercy forgive Valmont. Let not my misfortunes, which I acknowledge, be laid to his charge, and I shall bless thy mercy!” I could not avoid, my dear and worthy friend, going into those digressions on a subject I am sensible must renew and aggravate your sorrows, as I am certain this prayer of Madame de Tourvel’s will give you much consolation.

After our friend had uttered those few words she fell in my arms; and she was scarcely settled in her bed, when she fainted for a considerable time, and recovered with the usual helps. As soon as she came to herself, she begged I would send for Father Anselmus, saying, “He is the only physician I have now occasion for. I feel my miseries will soon be at end.” She complained of a great oppression, and spoke with great difficulty.

Some time after, she ordered her waiting maid to give me a little box, which I send you, that contains papers belonging to her, and charged me to send them to you immediately after her death.34 Then she conversed about you, of your friendship for her, as much as her situation would permit, and with great tenderness.

Father Anselmus came about four o’clock, and stayed near an hour alone with her. When we returned, her countenance was calm and serene, but it was easily to be seen Father Anselmus had wept a great deal. He remained to assist at the last ceremonies of the church. This solemn and melancholy sight became more so by the contrast of the composed and settled resignation of the sick person, with the silent grief of the venerable confessor, who was dissolved in tears beside her. The afflicting scene became general, and she who we all deplored was the only one unmoved.

The remainder of the day was spent in the usual prayers, which was now and then interrupted by the frequent faintings of the dear woman. At last, about eleven, she seemed more in pain, with great oppression. I put out my hand to feel her arm; she had still strength to place it on her heart; I could no longer feel it beat, and, indeed, our unhappy friend expired instantly.

You may remember, my dear friend, when you last came to town, about a year ago, chatting together about some people whose happiness then appeared to us more or less complete, we indulged ourselves in the thought of this same woman’s felicity, whose misfortune we now lament. Such an assemblage of virtues! so many attractions and accomplishments! so sweet, so amiable! a husband she loved, and by whom she was adored! a circle of friends, in whom she delighted, and was the delight! a figure, youth, fortune! so many united advantages are lost by one act of imprudence! O, Providence! how incomprehensible and adorable are thy decrees!⁠—I fear I shall increase your sorrow by giving way to my own, and therefore will no longer dwell on the melancholy theme.

My daughter is a little indisposed. On hearing from me this morning the sudden death of two persons of her acquaintance, she was taken ill, and I ordered her to be put to bed. I hope, however, this slight disorder will not be attended with any bad consequence. At her age they are not accustomed to such chagrines, and they leave a more lively and stronger impression. This active sensibility is certainly a laudable quality. What we daily see ought to make us dread it. Adieu, my dear and worthy friend!