Letter 18

Cecilia Volanges to Sophia Carnay

What, my Sophia, you blame beforehand the step I intend to take! I had uneasiness enough already, but you add considerably to it. You say, I certainly ought not to answer his letter; you are quite, at your ease, and can give advice; but you know not how I am circumstanced, and are not able, not being on the spot, to give an opinion. Sure I am, were you so situated, you would act as I do. Certainly, according to etiquette, I should not answer his letter; and by my letter of yesterday, you may perceive my intention was not to reply; but I don’t think anyone was ever so circumstanced as I am.

And, then, to be left to my own discretion! For Madame de Merteuil, whom I depended on seeing in the evening, did not come. Everything is against me; she is the cause of my knowing him. In her company, it has almost always been, that I have seen and spoke to him. It is not that I have any ill-will towards her for it⁠—but I’m left to myself when I want her advice most. Well, I’m greatly to be pitied! Only think, yesterday he came as usual. I was so confused I could not look at him; he could not speak to me, for Mamma was with us. I knew he would be vexed when he found I had not wrote to him; I did not know how to appear. He immediately asked me if I had a mind he should bring my harpsichord. My heart beat so I could scarcely say yes. When he returned it was much worse. I just glanced at him. He did not see me, but looked as if he was ill; that made me very unhappy. He tuned my harpsichord, and said, with a sigh, Ah, Miss! He spoke but those two words; and in such a tone as threw me into the greatest confusion. I struck a few chords without knowing what I did: Mamma asked him to sing; he excused himself, saying, he was not well; but I had no excuse, and was forced to sing. I then wished I had no voice; and chose, on purpose, a song that I did not know; for I was certain I could not sing any one, and some notice would have been taken.

Fortunately a visitor came; and as soon as I heard a coach coming, I stopped, and begged he would put up my harpsichord. I was much afraid he would then go away, but he returned. Whilst Mamma and the lady, who came, were chatting together, I wished to look at him for a moment; I met his eyes, and I could not turn mine from him. That instant I saw his tears flow, and he was obliged to turn his head aside to hide them. I found I could not withstand it; and that I was also ready to weep. I retired, and instantly wrote with a pencil on a slip of paper, “I beg you’ll not be so dejected; I promise to answer your letter.”⁠—Surely you can’t say there was any harm in this; I could not help it. I put my note in the strings of my harpsichord, as his was, and returned to the saloon. I found myself much easier, and was impatient until the lady went away. She was on her visits, and soon retired. As soon as she was gone, I said I would again play on my harpsichord, and begged he would bring it. I saw by his looks he suspected nothing; but when he returned, oh, he was so pleased! In laying the instrument before me, he placed himself in such a manner that Mamma could not see, and squeezed my hand⁠—but it was but for a moment: I can’t express the pleasure I received; I drew it away however; so that I have nothing to reproach myself with.

Now, my dear friend, you see I can’t avoid writing to him, since I have promised; and I will not chagrin him any more I am determined; for I suffer more than he does. Certainly, as to anything bad, I would not be guilty of it, but what harm can there be in writing, when it is to prevent one from being unhappy? What puzzles me is, that I shall not know what to say; but that signifies nothing; and I am certain its coming from me will be quite sufficient.

Adieu, my dear friend! If you think me wrong, tell me; but I don’t believe I am. As the time draws near to write to him, my heart beats strangely; however, it must be so, as I have promised it.