Letter 87

The Marchioness de Merteuil to Madame de Volanges

My dear and worthy friend, I write this in bed. The most disagreeable accident, and the most impossible to be foreseen, has, by the violent shock and chagrin it has occasioned, given me a fit of illness; not that I have anything to reproach myself with: but it is always painful to a virtuous woman, who would preserve the modesty of her sex, to have the eyes of the public fixed on her, and I would give the world to have avoided this unhappy adventure. I do not yet know but I shall go to the country until it is blown over. The matter is thus:

I met at the Marechale de ⸻’s a Mr. Prevan, who you certainly know by name, and was no otherwise known to me; meeting him accidentally at her house, I thought myself safe in looking upon him as good company; his person is tolerable, and he is not deficient in wit; chance, and being tired at play, left me the only woman in company with him and the bishop of ⸻. Whilst all the others were engaged at lansquenet, we chatted together until supper. At table a new piece was mentioned, which gave him an opportunity of offering his box to the Marechale, who accepted of it; it was agreed I should attend her: this appointment was for Monday last at the French Comedy. As the Marechale was to sup with me after the performance, I proposed to this gentleman to accompany her; he accordingly came. Two days after he paid me a visit, which passed in the usual conversation; not a single word of anything remarkable; the day following he again visited me in the morning, which, as it was something extraordinary, I thought it was better, instead of making him sensible, by my manner of receiving him, to politely inform him we were not yet on so intimate a footing as he seemed to think; for this reason I sent him that same day a ceremonious invitation to a supper which I gave the day before yesterday. I did not speak four words to him during the whole evening, and he retired as soon as his party was finished. So far you will agree, nothing had the air of an intrigue. After play was over, we made a macedoine, which lasted till two o’clock, and then I went to bed.

My women were gone a full half-hour, when I heard a noise in my apartment. I drew my curtain in a great fright, and saw a man coming in from my closet-door. I shrieked out, and recognised, by my watch light, this Mr. Prevan, who, with a most inconceivable effrontery, bid me not be alarmed, that he would clear up the mystery of his conduct, and requested me not to make any noise. Thus saying, he lighted a bougie. I was frightened to such a degree, that I could not speak a word; his easy and tranquil air petrified me still more: but he had not spoke two words, before I perceived what this pretended mystery was, and my only answer, as you may well believe, was to ring my bell.

By good fortune, my servants, who had been making merry with one of my women, were not gone to bed. My waiting woman, when near my room, heard me speaking very loud, was frightened, and called all my people. Judge you what a scandal! They were enraged; I thought my valet de chambre would have killed Prevan. I must own, at that time I was very glad to have such a powerful assistance: but on reflection, I would rather my waiting woman alone had come; she would have been sufficient, and I should, perhaps, have avoided all this noise which afflicts me.

The tumult awoke all the neighbours; the people talked, and since yesterday the news has spread all over Paris. Monsieur de Prevan is a prisoner, by order of the commandant of his corps, who had the politeness to call on me to make an apology. This imprisonment will augment the noise, but I have not been able to prevent it. The court and city have been at my gate, which is shut to everybody. The few persons I have admitted have assured me, everyone does me justice, and the public resentment is very high against Monsieur de Prevan; he certainly deserves it: but that does not wipe away this disagreeable occurrence.

Moreover, this man has certainly some friends, and who knows what such friends may invent to my prejudice? Good God! how unhappy a young woman is! When she has even sheltered herself against slander, it is not sufficient, she must also silence calumny.

I beg you will let me know what you would have done, and what you would do in my situation, with your opinion. It has always been from you I received the gentlest and most prudent consolations: it is still from you I wish to receive them. Adieu, my dear, good friend! You know the sentiments that attach me to you forever. I embrace your amiable daughter, and am, etc.